The Generation

He’s in the hotel lobby. He is old. He is wearing Coke bottle glasses and hearing aids. He wears a University of Georgia ball cap. But hey, nobody’s perfect.

He is eating hotel “scrambled” eggs, which taste like a four-letter word. This particular hotel chain also serves pork sausage. But it is neither pork, nor sausage. The hotel employee tells us these are turkey wieners.

Those poor turkeys.

The old man is easy to talk to. His name is Norman. He is 100 years old. Although you’d never guess his age. His mind is as sharp as a Barlow knife. His eyes move quickly. I notice a tattoo on his forearm. It’s an Army tattoo he says.

“I was in the War,” he says. “World War II,” he adds.

The man was a doughboy. Infantry. One of the tough guys. He endured the worst of the worst. They marched through a soggy European hell. Through miles of mud. Sometimes his feet would get so waterlogged, when he would remove his boots, pieces of his feet would fall off.

Still, he insists he didn’t have it as bad as some. “We had it easy. There were some guys who didn’t come back. Plus, it wasn’t all misery.”

I ask him to elaborate.

“Well,” Norman says. “It was Europe. We met lots of Italian girls.” He raises his eyebrows in a way that indicates he may be old, but he ain’t dead.

He takes a sip of bathwater coffee and gazes into the distance. Maybe he’s thinking about dead men. Maybe he’s thinking about old friends. He tells me times have changed. Not many people in today’s culture talk—or even think about the War Against Hitler.

“Used to,” he says, “All you had to do was mention the War, and everyone knew exactly what you were talking about. They lived through it. We all lived through it. There’d be a handful of guys in every room who’d been in the army. We all understood each other.

“But now you mention that War; nobody even remembers. My grandson’s kids don’t even know what the hell I’m talking about.”

Norman laughs. It’s not a cheerful laugh. It’s a sad one. “They’re forgetting about us.”

There were 16 million Americans who served in World War II. Nearly 40 percent of those were volunteers. The rest were draftees. Women served, too, lest we forget. There were 200,000 women in the military, 3 million women volunteering with the Red Cross.

And we’re losing these people every day.

Last year, there were 167,284 World War II veterans left. The number is dwindling. Each day, 180 of these veterans die. By the time you read these words hundreds more will have passed.

This means the sights, the sounds, the smells, the memories of history’s largest and most fatal and cataclysmic war will be gone. The recollections will have disappeared, and a young generation will happily continue using ChatGPT to write their college essays and scrolling on their phones.

I ask the old man if he’s ever thought of preserving his stories. Writing them down maybe.

“Nobody wants to hear my stories,” the old man says with another laugh. “I wish there was something I could do with my old memories. But nobody gives a [bad word] about us.”

“I think you’re wrong,” I tell him. “I think people do want to hear your stories.”

He chuckles at me. “Believe me, son. Nobody in this country cares.”

Which is why I’m writing this. Namely, because I care. And I’m betting a lot of other people do, too. So if you are a veteran of World War II, or if you have (or had) one such veteran in your life, and you have a war story to tell, I’m officially collecting them. You can email me your stories, or send them c/o 184 Starlight Lane, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, 32459.

Maybe Norman is right. Maybe nobody in this country cares. But I doubt it.

And I’m making it my mission to prove him wrong.


  1. Debbie - June 27, 2023 9:20 am

    I’m a healthcare provider and I can tell you healthcare workers love this generation. They are respectful, kind, appreciative and show up for themselves. The only downsize is , for the most part, they will not take needed medical equipment like walkers, wheelchairs, etc. I am always told “someone else might need it more than me”. Riding down in my hospital elevator last week, several of us providers were talking about how much we miss working with the WWII generation.

  2. Mike from Auburn - June 27, 2023 9:30 am

    He’s wrong. My 27 year old son taught his 8th grade class for a week about WW2. Five years ago, he led a squad of West Point cadets in a wreath laying ceremony at the American cemetery in Normandy. Two years ago, his younger brother prepared and delivered eulogies at the same place for 5 Alabamians who died during D-Day action but their bodies were never recovered. They both possess M1 Garrand rifles used during the War. Don’t underestimate most our American youth. They know and remember…

  3. Lynette - June 27, 2023 11:58 am

    The National WWII Museum in New Orleans would love all the stories and letters you receive. Please consider sharing with them.

  4. Cathy Boswell - June 27, 2023 1:05 pm

    Sean, my in-laws were members of that Great Generation. They actually compiled a book of their personal stories and memories that I think you would love. They compiled this big, beautiful book and had one printed for each of their 4 children. I believe my husband’s family would be honored to share it with you, if you’re interested.

  5. Glenda Busby-Fowler Hinkle - June 27, 2023 1:42 pm

    My Uncle, Arthur Glen Lamar, (A.G.), was just a teenager in the Army. He was in England when the blitz bombs were dropped constantly and continually. He was a field radio operator. He went crazy from the fear and sounds. They shipped him back home and on the way to Alabama, the train he was riding had a horrendous wreck and, in his words, “there was hamburger meat over here—-and hamburger meat over there.”…….He got home and tried to commit suicide on several occasions. He was hospitalized at Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa and there he remained for the next 30-35 years of his life. Docs felt like he had improved enough to visit family for weekends and he did. He came to our house, mostly, because of his strange behavior, his other brothers and sister didn’t want him around their family. He told my Mom (his sister) that they practiced vodoo at the hospital and every night they would take him to room, lay him down on a table with a saw and cut him in two. Then, they would put him back together again and bring him back to his room. He would put his cigarettes out on the hardwood floor of the bedroom. My Dad yelled at him and he would pay no attention, so we had to back off the visits. He spent the last 20 or so years in a VA (half-way house) home where he died. A young boy who suffered terrible nightmares and hallucinations all his life from the experience in WWII. It would have been much more humane had he died on the battlefield. When I was around 9 years old, he sent me a birthday present. It was a skirt with “hula girls” printed on it. I cry everytime I think about his wasted life and I pray he will be remembered by someone other than me after I’m gone.

  6. Julie Hall - June 27, 2023 2:27 pm

    Sean, you are the best.

  7. JOHN SWETNAM - June 27, 2023 3:45 pm

    Thank you for this effort. Both my mother and my father were in WWII.

  8. Kelly - June 27, 2023 6:10 pm

    I am a retired healthcare worker who worked at a Veterans home. These men and women were humble and considered their service a duty. They hesitated to speak of their service, even when asked. We used to take them to baseball games on outings and when the National Anthem was sung, they stood and saluted, even if they had to hang on to the seat in front of them. Those in wheelchairs asked for help to stand, even if their legs wouldn’t hold them and they had to crouch. I will never forget my time with them. It was one of those instances where I received so much more than I gave. Their stories deserve to be told.
    Thank you.

  9. pattymack43 - June 27, 2023 6:22 pm

    Never forget!!!🙏❤️🙏

  10. Juliana Dykhuizen - June 27, 2023 6:54 pm

    June 6, 1944, I was two years old living in Amsterdam ,the Netherlands . 1944 was the worst hunger winter, my family also was hungry , with five kids and a sixth on the way, the news of the invasion of Normandy by the American army , brought hope . My father was hiding in the attic with the radio and heard the news . He was hiding ,because he would have to work for the Germans if they found him , off and on , they came by the house to see if the man or grown boys were in the house .And owning a radio was not allowed ,they were confiscated, like the wheels of our bicycles by the Germans . So many Americans died , one cemetery has 8.301 U.S 30 th infantry where they liberated Margraten ,Holland .
    Eleven months later ,the invasion paid off, May ,1945 Holland was liberated by Americans and canadian soldiers from the German occupation.

  11. Lisa Trimble - June 27, 2023 8:01 pm

    My Dad left LSU at 19 and volunteered with the US Army/ Airforce. He flew 36 missions during his time , in his late 80’s he wrote every detail about each one,and his V-mails are incredibly personal as well as professional. Everyone of them ended with ” I know I’m home when I see the White Cliffs of Dover.” My daughter stood on those cliffs not long ago and imagined them flying in.
    He opened up about his service in his late years and was interviewed by some journalists. He was so humbled and honored to have served. The great thing about The Greatest Generation was that they came home, picked up where they left off and never complained, just loved life and their country.
    Taps at his funeral was so beautiful.
    Thanks Sean , Lisa

  12. Scott Sobel - June 28, 2023 2:10 pm

    My father Bill Sobel died a few years ago of natural causes at 93. He was a 17 year old Queens, NY kid who enlisted in the Navy and served in the Pacific for the last few years of WWII. He was a machine gunner and bosun’s mate during the time of the Kamikaze and participated in 8 invasions and also involved in liberating Japan and Japanese prison camps. He experienced duty in China. He stayed in the reserves and also served in Korea. I was born while he was overseas.

    Dad really never talked about his experiences in either war until the last year’s of his life when my son and other grandkid’s asked him questions, so forgive me if I screw up any factual information. He did talk briefly about the awful things done to our guys at the camps.

    Dad did tell me about on event from his WWII experience. He was wounded along with others when they tried to rescue a downed Kamikaze pilot who detonated a suicide bomb in his raft as the Navy crew was pulling him aboard their ship. My dad didn’t receive a Purple Heart because ship records were lost. He was fine with that and was proud of his service and having served his country.

    He was not a politically sensitive person but, during his last years, was disgusted by any candidate for office who exhibited fascist behavior or was not a public servant but took advantage of their office for their own benefit. He served and his generation served to keep America free and a role model for the world.

  13. Dee Thompson - June 28, 2023 2:50 pm

    Lovely column. Three of my four uncles served in WWII and two of them came home with severe PTSD but they didn’t talk about it. That was just how those men were built. Today, thank God, military folks with PTSD can go to a wonderful place in Milledgeville Georgia founded by veterans for veterans, Comfort Farms. I wrote about it on my blog a few years ago:


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