Great generation still giving back, even its rebates

It's been called America's "greatest generation," so perhaps it was fitting that on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, seniors in Nevada found out they can keep a second rebate check if they received it by mistake from the state.

One has nothing to do with the other, of course. It was merely coincidence that a little bonus went out to a few people at a time they were remembering the trauma caused by the Pearl Harbor bombing and this country's entry into World War II.

But the two came together in my mind when I noticed how the seniors interviewed by the Appeal about a double rebate check had already decided to send it back to the state or donate it to charity.

These are people who endured tough times for the United States and persevered. Obviously, not all are in financial straits today. But a good many struggle to pay bills month to month and would welcome an extra $75 in the pocket.

Gov. Kenny Guinn graciously told those who received one to keep the extra rebate check. They were sent because sometimes the state's computer data bases didn't exactly match the names on the lists they compared of people over 65 with driver's licenses and those who have a registered vehicle.

As Tom Jacobs, spokesman for the Department of Motor Vehicles, said: "The governor is confident everybody who got the check deserves it."

Is it remarkable that many of those people believed they didn't really deserve it, and the honest thing to do was give the money back?

Not really. For a generation raised on the idea of self-reliance, a tradition of giving to charity, a sense of selflessness for the benefit of the common good - no, it didn't surprise me at all.

"As they now reach the twilight of their adventurous and productive lives, they remain, for the most part, exceptionally modest," Tom Brokaw said a few years ago when his book, "The Greatest Generation," was published. "They have so many stories to tell, stories that in many cases they have never told before, because in a deep sense they didn't think that what they were doing was that special, because everyone else was doing it too."

The Greatest Generation gave birth to my generation, the Baby Boomers. Do we have the same commitment to responsibility and community? Not by a long shot, I'd say.

For one thing, our war was Vietnam. Now a new generation of Americans is being shaped by the Iraq war. The nation is not yet as polarized as during Vietnam, but I fear it's headed in that direction.

War isn't the only factor to shape a generation, though. Baby Boomers have had it good - far more economic booms than busts, long stretches of peace, advances in technology, science and medicine that boggle the mind. And a sense of entitlement.

Government has become such a presence in our everday lives that we spend an inordinate amount of time either trying to get our "fair share" of benefits or fighting off its intrusions on everything we do.

What else am I supposed to think after reading about the Supreme Court case decided this week? A man, James Lockhart, sued to stop the federal government from taking away $143 a month in Social Security benefits to repay $80,000 in student loans.

I feel sorry for someone like Lockhart, 67 years old, disabled by diabetes and heart disease, sick and poor and living on $847 a month in Seattle. But I couldn't disagree with the ruling of the court, which said his Social Security payments could indeed be used to reduce his debt.

Here's the government paying itself back for money it gave him almost 20 years ago with money it's giving him now. Does a great nation take care of its own? Or do the people of a great nation take care of themselves?

To the Nevada senior citizens who went ahead and cashed your double rebate checks, don't worry. You needn't feel guilty.

The times have changed, not you.

n Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at editor@nevada or 881-1221.


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