Exploring Generations: The Greatest Generation
In the days when gasoline was 20 cents and lunch cost a mere 15 cents, World War I had just ended, World War II was just beginning and racial discrimination was normal. Depression struck and nearly everything was rationed. Despite it all, the people of those days grew stronger, more patriotic, loyal and gained a sense of responsibility—this is why they are called the Greatest Generation.
“I was born in 1922 in Hillsboro, Texas,” Clifton Ganus, a Greatest Generation member, said. “My father was in the restaurant business, and when I was 7 we moved to New Orleans. Times were different in many respects. They were hard times, but they were also good.”
The Greatest Generation includes those who are 85 and older, meaning they were born before 1930. Here’s a look into the influences, characteristics and significant events of their generation.
During the 1930s and 1940s, movie theatres were on the rise. It has been said this was because movies were an escape from the depression that was happening throughout America, but for teenagers like Ganus, movies were a main form of entertainment.
“When I got to Searcy in 1939, we would walk down to the movie theater every Saturday night to watch a cowboy serial,” Ganus said. “Every week, the serial would pick up where it left off and we always went because we wanted to know if the Indians were going to beat the cowboys.”
Hatred amongst races was also a very common influence during the 30s and 40s. Ganus said he remembers the days when African Americans did not drink out of the same water fountains, eat in the same restaurants or even use the same hotels. However, Ganus said he also remembers the joyous day when his college, along with many others, was integrated for the first time in 1963.
“Growing up, we had blacks working for us in our restaurant business and Agnus and Carrie worked for us back home,” Ganus said. “We treated them like members of the family, but we were a little different compared to other white families. There was a complete separation between races and they just weren’t treated as they should have been treated.”
The Great Depression
The United States was thrown into the Great Depression on Oct. 29, 1929 after the stock market crashed. Individuals rushed to withdraw their money from banks, which caused even further despair.
The United States entered World War II in the late 1930s and the economy began to turn around because people were essential in the war effort. Ganus said that it was through those times that their generation began shaping into the people they are today.
World War II
“We grew up during the wars,” Ganus said. “I missed the 1st World War by four years, but heard an awful lot about it. I remember when the 2nd World War started on September 1 of 1939. Hitler had been moving and taking more land and we had to save everything we could.”
Nearly everything was rationed like gas, meat, coffee and sugar. It was also required that cars drive under 35 mph in order to preserve gas and tires.
Because of the Great Depression, many from the Greatest Generation are now very frugal. During that time little money was spent on clothing and wasting food was unheard of.
“Times were different in so many ways than today,” Ganus said. “The Great Depression helped make most people more conservative—more saving and utilizing everything. I still utilize the clothes I have until they are completely worn and I still finish all the food on my plate. I think that comes from my early days when there wasn’t much and you were happy to have what you had.”
Responsible and Patriotic
After World War I and during World War II, patriotism surged and many Americans felt a responsibility to help in any way possible.
“My generation is very loyal and dependable,” Ganus said. “And during the Second World War and the Great Depression, we rose to the occasion. Whether good or bad, we love our country and will always do whatever needs to be done.”
It is because of the way this generation handled themselves during rough times that they are called the Greatest Generation.
“My generation experienced the Great Depression, World War II and so much more,” Ganus said. “It is what makes our generation so much different than times today.”