Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Greatest Generation loses another

Tom Brokaw dubbed the segment of U.S. adults who lived through the Great Depression, and then lived through and participated in World War II, as "the greatest generation." He did so because he felt that these men and women fought and worked, not for fame and fortune, but because it was the right thing to do in support of one's country. Brokaw's declaration was made after interviewing many from this group in preparation for his book, aptly titled The Greatest Generation.

Sadly, we lost another of that generation this past week. My uncle, Walter William Orlowski, Jr., was a member of the "greatest generation." Walt was born in 1928, just in time for the depression which impacted all of America. He grew up in Leavenworth, Kansas and when he graduated from high school there promptly enlisted in the Army. Why? Because to Walt and his generation, it was the right thing to do. He served in Italy and came back to the U.S. as a patient on a hospital ship.

Upon returning to the States, my uncle married the love of his life--Carol Burre. And, while on his honeymoon, Walt was recalled into the Army, this time to serve in Okinawa, Japan.

When his tour of duty was up, my uncle returned home to his wife and joined the family shoe repair business. But, only today--the day of his funeral--did I discover that my uncle didn't care for that business. Why did I not know that? Because Walt's generation not only served, they rarely complained.

Walt decided to try banking and went to school in Wisconsin so that he could become a loan officer. He returned to Leavenworth--again--and worked for many years alongside his brother-in-law, and another of my uncles, at the Leavenworth National Bank. He ultimately retired from banking when his eyesight began to fail and settled in San Angelo, Texas where he lived out his retirement years until his death last week.

My uncle epitomized the way the "greatest generation" approached life--God, country, family, doing, never complaining. He was a quiet man who loved to travel, liked to fish, and delighted in seeing his family. He and his wife never had children so my uncle took on the role of Santa at Christmastime and a favorite uncle year-round, for his nieces and nephew were his kids.

It wasn't until today's funeral for Walt that I realized how little I knew about my uncle. My lack of knowledge wasn't intentional--either on my part, my uncles' or my parents. For them, it wasn't newsworthy that he had served, that he had grown impatient while in the family business, or that he and his wife couldn't have children. He, and the colleagues of his generation, never focused on themselves...they just went and lived life and, with apologies to Nike, "just did it."

Rest in peace, Uncle Walt...

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