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A Stone's Throw: 'Greatest Generation' still going

 

Betty Stone

 

 

Tom Brokaw called the veterans of World War II "the greatest generation." Those of us who lived through that time might agree with him readily. I tend to be somewhat a pacifist. I had much rather negotiate than fight, especially with the threat of nuclear weapons. But even I concede that that war was needed. When it started, we did not even know the extent of the evil genocide either. We were just pulled into it. 

 

I think many of these men and women continue to demonstrate the qualities that make them great. Even in their older years they are busy trying to make life better for others. Some of them belong to an organization that strives to do just that. 

 

The Mississippi Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, one of the critical battles of that war, are organized to do so still. They present college scholarships to the descendants of that historic battle. 

 

Of course, they are getting up in years now. Dr. Bob Gilbert, one of the founders of the organization, is 101, but still an enthusiastic member. 

 

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. James Hunt, also a member of that group, recently. I could not fail to see the altruistic attitude still active and notice how the qualities that made those men great are organized for them to continue to do great things. The scholarships they donate are just one example. 

 

Coming to maturity just after the Great Depression, few of them had had an easy life. Some of the horrors they had to experience when they were barely more than children are bone-chilling. Sherman was right about war. As youngsters they went through hell. 

 

When the group was organized recently, however, they had all aged. One was more than 100; some, at least four, were 90 or older. They wanted to preserve history and honor others. 

 

All of them had been good citizens with academic averages of B-plus or better and good records of service while in college, predictive of their lives. Some had had a difficult time getting their educations, but they brought perseverance to that, too. Sometimes they found unorthodox ways of meeting their requirements, like swapping out skills. 

 

In different activities they have found ways to preserve history. Some collected and compiled letters. Some recorded their own experiences. The group has received gifts from other people who want to preserve history as well, things like flags, plates, plaques. One plate is from the Belgian embassy. Some unedited letters have been collected exactly as written and put into a book entitled "What Is Brave?" 

 

They have been dedicated to helping those less fortunate. The scholarship money they have offered to descendants of soldiers who fought in that battle is partly for that purpose.  

 

It fits right in with Jim Hunt's character to be helping others. His entire profession has been devoted to that purpose. He is a strong believer in helping people use whatever skills they can develop. He initiated the idea of pairing people who lack some ability with others who might have that one, but lack a different one. After all, everyone has to be prepared to outlive his parents or initial caretaker. He created the idea of traineeships to help place people in jobs where they can function successfully. He pioneered the idea of early identification of mental retardation so that an individual can be trained to his fullest capacity. 

 

It is difficult to imagine or to appreciate the extent to which this gifted educator has enriched the lives of others. One way or another, he is still fighting wars against different enemies. He is one of that "Great Generation." 

 

Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in and lives in Columbus.

 

Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.

 

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