Alva James-Johnson

Alva James-Johnson: The 'greatest generation' is still a blessing

As a reporter, I meet a lot of interesting people.

But there's nothing like sitting down with an old-timer to really put life in perspective.

Over the past several days, I had the opportunity to interview several people in their 80s and 90s, all still very much full of vigor.

They took me back in time to World War II and then the civil rights movement, giving me a glimpse of what it means to sacrifice and live according to one's convictions.

I figured I could learn a thing or two from such seasoned individuals, so I made sure I took good notes.

The first interview was with 89-year-old Jim Steen, a WWII vet who survived Iwo Jima and marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

At the time of the interview, Steen and his wife, Bet, were headed to Selma for the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday."

Wearing a U.S. Marines cap, Steen spoke proudly of his years defending democracy on American soil and abroad.

When I asked why, as a white man, he went to Selma with his 17-year-old son two days after other marchers were badly beaten, Steen said it was the right thing to do. It's as simple as that.

A few days ago, I interviewed women in the Columbus-Phenix City Baker's Dozen Chapter of the American Rosie the Riveter Association.

The women talked about growing up in the Great Depression and filling factory and teaching jobs while the men fought abroad.

Juanice Still, 90, said it was a different era when people knew how to get through tough times.

"I don't think that people today realize what it is like to really work, to really have a hard time and make do with whatever they have," she said.

Still said during the war, people were encouraged to raise their own food in Victory Gardens.

Gas was rationed, and she had to go before a gas board before purchasing it.

When it wasn't enough, she would turn off the ignition in her Model-T and let the car coast down a hill to save gas.

Mildred "Jean" Liparota, 95, said, "I think that's why they say we're the 'greatest generation,' because we grew up with nothing.

"We got the sun in the morning and the moon at night."

She said subsequent generations have had it better because "we spoiled them."

The women looked at me, and I stood guilty as charged.

Listening to them talk, I began to realize just how lucky we are to still have the wise among us, sharing their stories and transporting us back in time.

They are a generation with so much to offer us, still.

Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.