In 1998, journalist Tom Brokaw published a collection of stories of young men and women who lived through World War II. He titled his book, “The Greatest Generation” and the nickname for this group of Americans stuck.

The Greatest Generation were born in the first decades of the 20th Century. They were children during the exciting and vibrant years of the 1920s. They were teenagers and young adults during the hard times of the Great Depression. They learned sacrifice and through the New Deal they learned to trust the federal government as a power for good. Those lessons were then reinforced by their experience in World War II. This generation sacrificed themselves in the farms, factories and battlefields of that conflict. They collectively fought and defeated Hitler and Imperial Japan. The put their young lives on hold, while they gave of themselves for the collective survival of freedom.

This was the defining experience of their generation. Going forward, it was the Greatest Generation that developed computers, built America’s highways, raised the suburbs and the eventually the Hippies. They included such seminal individuals as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

What about their experience made them great? What was it about those few years in their lives during the 1940s that forged this group of Americans into a generation we can rightly remember as “great?” What made the Greatest Generation great?