Reflecting on his childhood, Brigadier General Dean Carlton DuBois, Sr. recalled his mother’s quip: “You look like you’re full of enthusiastics.” Though he remembered the phrase as awkwardly charming, it would define his character, even in the darkest days prior to his death.
DuBois, 79, passed away last Monday. He was one of 16.1 million American veterans of World War II. Only 3.5 million are still with us, and we are losing them at a rate of well over 1,000 each day.
DuBois had been in failing health for some time. But for the past year he had been sick with many increasingly painful and debilitating medical problems; one problem compounding the severity of the others. He knew he was going to die, and soon. But that did not prevent him from celebrating every day as if it were a single collection of little soul-stirring phenomena. It’s how he approached nearly every particular of his entire life, every smile, every kind word, every piece of chocolate cake, every magazine article he clipped for someone to read, every trinket he had for a visiting child. Everything filled him with “enthusiastics.”
Though it may sound trite, even corny, to many of us in the 21st Century, where serving others and appreciating the beauty found in simplicity often take a back seat to self-serving instant-gratification and materialism, DuBois and others of his generation lived – and still live – to serve their fellow man. It’s why they have been so successful in work and life. To them life is not “all about me” cloaked in some radical cause, pretending to care about the world in order to define oneself: It’s about work, sacrifice, and getting something out of life only after you’ve put a lot into it: A concept that is beginning to sound odd in an age of entitlement.
Tom Brokaw called them the “Greatest Generation,” because the members of that generation were committed to real selfless causes that saved and bettered the world: Defeating fascism in World War II and Communism in the Cold War, building modern America, ending Jim Crow racism, venturing into space, putting a man on the moon, germinating the ideas that would lead to the Internet and the endless applications of computer technologies, raising families and sending their kids to college in record numbers (something many of the Greatest Gen did not have the opportunity to do themselves), and asking little-to-nothing in return. It was after all, a member of DuBois’ generation, President John F. Kennedy, who implored future generations to “Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.”