The members of that generation were tempered by the Great Depression and honed by World War II and when the war was over they built the United States into the most powerful nation in history. They did it not thinking of themselves, but giving unselfishly and unstintingly of their time, effort and talents.
They peopled every community across this country, serving for those who followed as examples of thriftiness, hard work and love of church, family and country.
One by one, they are slowly slipping away and soon that generation will be gone — a distant memory of what made this country the great nation it was for many decades.
In our community the Greatest Generation made its mark as well, and there were many men who returned from the war to the towns they called home in Cherokee County.
They got jobs, opened businesses, raised families, contributed to their communities and made our county a better place.
One such man was John T. Holbrook Jr. of Canton, who died Nov. 1 at age 86.
Mr. Holbrook, as I called him, or J.T. as my dad would say, was a familiar presence in Canton all the years I grew up here.
Whether it was at the First Baptist Church or when I was hanging out at the Canton Drug Store or visiting my dad at the Cotton Mill office, in those years I would often see Mr. Holbrook and I remember him as always cheerful and joking, like my own father.
Mr. Holbrook lived in Canton all his life, leaving during the years of World War II when he fought in the military and spending time just prior to the war working for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and traveling up to Maine in the winter.
He was drafted into the Army in 1944 and served occupation duty in Japan following the United States victory in the Pacific.
Mr. Holbrook was on the deck of a battleship in August 1945 overlooking the Sesabo Harbor in Nagaski, Japan, after the atomic bomb was dropped. He took photos from the deck of the ship, but could not go ashore because of the high level of radiation.
In time, in 1946, he returned back to Canton and went to work at his father’s car dealership, but eventually went to work for Canton Cotton Mill where he began as a laborer and surveyor and moved up to plant engineer and in other areas of the management staff.
After the mill closed in 1981, Mr. Holbrook stayed on to help sell equipment and other duties before retiring in 1991.
In the years following his retirement, he took time to help the Historical Society, was involved in the community and church activities, enjoyed his family and remained a familiar figure around town, always willing to chat about times past or present. He continued to be a source of information about the mills, the strike, the mill village and many other aspects of life here that in many ways are now almost forgotten.
But most importantly, like many of his generation, he served as an example of someone who in his simple, everyday life, inspired others in his circle of family, friends and acquaintances to be better people, a man who truly loved his family.
That is so representative of what the vanishing Great Generation meant to my generation of Baby Boomers. They were the ones who went before so that we could enjoy the bounty we grew up with.
Much like my own father, who also grew up in the Depression, he served in the war and came home to work in the community at the Cotton Mill and provide a good life for his family he held so dear.
We will miss the men and women of that generation, and if you are lucky enough to still have one in your family, cherish that person. In these days that sometimes seem dark and worrisome, as we watch our national leaders often falter, and we see this great country struggle, it is easy to feel pessimistic about the future.
But on this Veterans Day, when I think about those who went before, I remain optimistic that we can come out of these times stronger and more resilient, ready to give back to our community and our country.
I believe that the spark of the true American spirit is still alive and that we can revive it and continue to be the light that represents freedom for the rest of the world.
Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.