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FUREY: What we can learn from D-Day veterans

The group of people often called “the greatest generation” gave so much on the battlefield and then came home and gave even more to build our current middle-class society.

Sometimes I catch myself when I start complaining about my day-to-day life, when I’m venting about all the dishes and laundry I have to do or how much of a headache it’ll be to clean out the garage.

“Woe is me”? Get a grip. That’s what I tell myself if I briefly lapse into anything resembling self-pity or some sort of sense that I’ve got it hard in life. Because I don’t. Not at all. Few of us truly do.

This sort of griping came to mind while I was reading about all of the great D-Day 75th anniversary commemorations, the stories of what the fallen did and the stories of what the veterans who survived did, both on the battlefield and when they returned.

One of the most remarkable parts about all of these interviews with veterans, all of whom are well over 90 years-old now, is that they shrug a lot of what they did off. It was just their job, they say. It was what had to be done. They offer no complaints. No demands of others. No cries of victimhood, despite the injuries many sustained.

I read a plaque recently in a community centre, it was dedicated to one of the men who helped build the facility. It said he spent time in the war, then came back to Canada, spent a short time grappling with his demons (it didn’t outright say that, but you could read between the lines) and then dusted himself off and built the community centre. And by built I don’t mean he wrote snarky tweets on his iPad demanding that the government cough up the cash. I mean physically building it with his bare hands.

It’s truly remarkable that the group of people often called “the greatest generation” gave so much on the battlefield and then came home and gave even more to build our current middle-class society.

This is where the lessons for today come in.

We are encouraged to feel offended at the most minor slight. If we suffer a normal bout of anxiety we’re supposed to add ourselves to the growing tally of those who suffer from mental illness. While we can already get our hands on pretty much all of life’s basic necessities for free – from both charitable groups and government – we are still supposed to cry out that there is more for government to do for our already pampered lives.

It was at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech in 1961 that he said “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Good luck finding a politician willing to say that now.

Like the children of inherited wealth who squander their family fortune, not having done the hard work to first build it, we are at risk of turning our backs on the attitudes and conduct that made our society the best time and place in human history to live.

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