The Largest Generation

1946 - 1964

Basics Training

Boom, boom, boom, boom,

I'm gonna shoot you right down,
Right off your feet.
Take you home with me,
Put you in my house.

Boom, boom, boom, boom!
--John Lee Hooker (1961)

To put it in historical perspective, World War II started September 1, 1939 in Europe, and that "Day of Infamy", December 7, 1941 involved the 'neutral' United States when the Empire of Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Nazi Germany then declared war on America, and then the U.S. faced a terrible two front war. Finally, it ended first in Germany, May 7, 1945, and Asia by August 15, 1945.

Reap What You Sow

Now, let's fast forward to nine months later, the average human gestation period, and with the 1946 New Year's Day birth of Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, the cacophonous wail of infants had just begun. She would be the first to turn 18, 21, then 40, and finally 60, all milestone ages. Money magazine featured her when she turned 40, and it was stressful to receive such attention. By the time she was highlighted in the USA Today's article on her at the end of 2005, she was more mature and ready for it. She adamantly claimed not to be a "Boomer" spokesmen, however, she did say some pertinent things, (I wanted to say, "Speak for yourself," but...):

I think our generation did many great things, and there are a lot of great people in our generation. They also did a lot of very negative and selfish things. We were self-absorbed. We had a lot of issues. I think we were lied to a lot along the way by our leaders, and something was happening all the time.

For the nation, the baby boomers turning 60 is monumental because of all the issues of health care and Social Security and nursing homes.

 Of course she could not but help remember, like the rest of us, the influence of particular kinds of history swirling around us, the growth of suburbia, the rise of television, the change in music on the radio, the Cold War, 'duck and cover' from the possible nukes, the Korean War, The War in Vietnam, the assassination of JFK, of Martin Luther King's marches and his assassination, of riots, of protests, of body bags and drugs. The Beatles and Rolling Stones, rock concerts climaxed with Woodstock, and a denouement with Altamont. And we had to contend with Jimi, Janis and Jim dying. Then there was Nixon up and down and out. There were more drugs and Kent State. There was the end to the War, and then all the things even the X and Y gens now face.

Just Another (Millionth) Statistic

Now, the man on the stand he wants my vote,
He's a-runnin' for office on the ballot note
He's out there preachin' in front of the steeple,
Tellin' me he loves all kinds-a people.
--Bob Dylan, "I Shall Be Free"

Looking at the General Fertility Rate (GFR) in the United States from its record low in 1936 of 75.8 children per 1,000 women of childbearing age spiked to 122.7 in 1957. It then plummeted to a new record low of 65.0 in 1976. The year I was born, 1946, allowed me to have three million and four hundred thousand peers by year's end; that was a twenty percent increase over the previous year. 1947 saw another 3.8 million new mouths to feed followed in '48 with 3.9 million. Each year afterwards until the waning of this boom in 1964 had 4 million surplus human beings added For this entire period we made up 73.4 million, or 40 percent of the US population..

Now the issue is the effect on retirement, for them, and their following generations. There are lots of projections, but they are guesses. The reality for me, I had to continue working after retirement, and it has not been like winning the lottery.

Analyze the Me Generation

Sociologists, Social Psychologists, and other talking heads want to know why there was this exponential birth. It is not enough to see the obvious reason for the big bubble: GI's returned to girlfriends and wives and had time to wine and have 'desert' afterwards. But, there were other factors, girls started marrying a couple of years earlier than the average of 22. The desire to not have children halved from the 15 percent in 1930. There was a renewed sense of security now that the two Axis powers were defeated, and we had the A-bomb. (Notice by 1964, and the end of the 'boom' the scare and anxiety increased regarding Soviet ICBM's). Business began to boom and unions fought for better wages. Developers like William Levitt made affordable housing in the outskirts of cities, and the GI bill gave the finances to the new civilians and a place to raise their kids instead of rental apartments in the city.

I got a letterman's sweater,
With a letter in front.
I got for football and track, I'm proud to wear it now;
When I cruise around,
The other parts of the town,
I got a decal in back:

So be true to your school now,
Just like you would to your girl or guy.
--Brian Wilson, Mike Love

I wanted to mention classrooms were always overcrowded, even into college years. I have a theory that this lack of attention, or selective favorites in these classes with 25 to 40 students meant some fell through the cracks, others with strong personalities rose to the top, and other lesser qualified pupils were passed on to the next level as to prevent further logjams down the road. If I may further get a bit off track with another anecdotal: As a freshman, I took a required math course at the University of Maryland, it was called Math 10. It was in one of those huge lecture halls with 21 inch black and white televisions mounted up in the corners. I still can remember Doctor Good with black glasses, (that looked great on Buddy Holly --another sad death), but not him and his slicked down graying black hair. His monotonous voice and big paper flip chart, discussing Boolean Algebra and Matrices and that sardine can situation put me in the failing grade arena. I finally passed it the third time with, whew, a live person: a grad assistant. Our mid-term and final exams were in the basketball Cole Field House, (which was also where I saw some great rock concerts).

Follow the Money

When I think of all the worries people seem to find,
And how they're in a hurry to complicate their mind.
By chasing after money and dreams that can't come true,
I'm glad that we are different, we've better things to do.
May others plan their future, I'm busy lovin' you:

(One, two, three, four...)

Sha-la-la-la-la-la, live for today,
Sha-la-la-la-la-la, live for today,

And don't worry 'bout tomorrow, hey, hey, hey! --Grass Roots

Those kids now would drive the market through the years, especially with the help of television. TV would push cereals while the Mickey Mouse Club would become a phenomenon. Later it would be Elvis and the American Bandstand, and all the products that went along with the times. Some would later be part of the 'counter-culture' in various vectors in that area. Dave Dudley, Tom Paxton, Kris Kristofferson, and Country Joe and the Fish would have their different musical takes on the Conflict in Vietnam

Landon Jones Landing a Catchword

And she said "Small change don't make no sense,
and your words are worthless too.
And ya best bring home more bacon, darlin',
or you and me is through."

Keepin' up with the Joneses is killing me,
Go on and hang that man who says the best things in life are for free,
Keepin' up with the Joneses is killing me,
She's just one more bad habit I was too blind to see.
--Little Feat

It would be most negligent to not mention the 1980 book written by author Landon Y. Jones. This editor of 37 years including, 8 at People and helped Time, Life and Money magazines, wrote Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation. Did you know he coined the term "Baby Boomer"? (His second book is The Essential Lewis and Clark, and is part of the National Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council.) Kavan Peterson remarks about when "Boomer" was used:

By then, the oldest boomer was 35-years-old – well past his or her hell-raising years of youthhood. (sic)

The term “boomer” has been a buzzword big time in marketing circles since the first boomers turned 60 in January of 2006. It seems that almost everyone in business is trying to figure out how to make oodles of money in boomer markets as its constituents head into their sunset years.

Landon was the one who looked up birth records and found Kathleen Casey-Kirschling finding her to be the first one to be called a "Boomer" born in 1946.

All the way from Washington,
Her bread-winner begs off the bathroom floor:
We live for just these twenty years,
Do we have to die for the fifty more?

All night,
He wants the young American,
Young American, young American, he wants the young American.

Do you remember, your president Nixon?
Do you remember, the bills you have to pay?
Or even yesterday?...

Have you been an un-American?
Just you and your idol singing falsetto 'bout,
Leather, leather everywhere, and,
Not a myth left from the ghetto.

All night,
You want the young American.
--David Bowie

When When Will They Ever Learn?

Yeah, I hope I die before I get old.
(Talkin' 'bout my generation). --the Who

I am glad this 'me generation' sometimes hippie, wannabe yuppie listened to my father after college and got a job that had a pension plan, albeit only a wee bit above subsistence level. I was of the generation that cried heavily when JFK was shot, in shock when RFK was, and afraid when MLK met his end. I had gone to share his "Dream" at the March on Washington. Two of the current ex-presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush represent two from each major party that were affected by these times. Clinton would use a Fleetwood Mac song, "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" for his campaign theme song. That group full of musicians who were our peers, wrote about the angst of marriage, affairs and divorce, which I, and that first Baby Boomer endured.

Handful of senators don’t pass legislation,
And marches alone can'’t bring integration.
When human respect is disintegratin’',
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’'.

And you tell me,
Over and over and over again, my friend:
Ah, you don’t believe,
We’re on the Eve
Of Destruction.
--Barry McGuire

My Mind Been Goin' Through Them Changes

But, like many Boomers, after searching and trying so many feeble ways and things, singing Kumbaya and turning out, and 'tuning in', I found what I needed as true spirituality. Many of this humongous bunch needed their souls anchored with on solid ground. Ultimately that's where I wound up, in church up front at the altar, letting the blood from the Son of Man on the cross wash me clean, giving my life to Jesus, but then I became a backslider. Disco sweat became addictive, along with Gin Collins. Partying seemed like better fellowship, I guess. Now, wiser, from a hard pan school of hard knocks, and with a half century and more of years,  and death is so much closer to this generation, I concur with Eric Clapton, "I have finally found a way to live in the presence of the Lord."
You hand in your ticket,
And you go watch the geek;
Who immediately walks up to you,
When he hears you speak;
And says, “How does it feel...
To be such a freak?”
And you say, “Impossible”,
As he hands you a bone:

Because something is happening here,
But you don’t know what it is,
Do you, Mister Jones?
Bob Dylan, "Ballad Of A Thin Man"

Silent Generation -- Baby Boomers -- Generation X


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