unfamous

I googled my Uncle Alton today. This is what I found on the WWII Memorial Site:

Name: SWANSON, ALTON O.
Service Branch: ARMY
Rank: 1 LT
Date of Death: 0000-00-00
Hostile: Dnb
Home of Record City/County: Price
Home of Record State: Wisconsin
Conflict: WWII

I remember looking him up at the actual site in Washington D.C. and finding nothing. My Uncle Alton died in WWII, and no one has even recored when. There is no other record of him anywhere, at least, anywhere electronic, which is all that exists for modern America. Most likely, even the scar on the mountainside in France where his plane crashed has been renewed, as nature does.

You probably think I’m going to go on a rant about how wrong that is and how our soldiers deserve their honor and memory, and that last is quite true. But that’s not where I’m going. Strangely, the fact that he is gone and there is nearly no one left who knows or cares that he existed makes me more proud of him, though he died long before I existed.

My uncle saw a need, heard a call, and answered it. He looked around, said ,”Someone’s got to do something,” and realized, “I’m someone.” He didn’t get rewarded, didn’t achieve fame, didn’t get remembered at all. The fact that he didn’t think about those things makes me proud of him.

Fame has replaced success as the chief goal of people under thirty. (No, that’s not a random musing; it’s statistically true.) Fame at any price for any reason–just get me the viral YouTube video and it’s all good. It’s a bizarre psychosis that we’ve now got the most generous and most narcissistic generation we’ve had in my lifetime. Obviously, those are generalizations, but again, statistically accurate. Too often, the narcissism overcomes the generosity, at which point doing good and giving to others becomes just another way to make myself feel good.

I have quite a lot of faith in this generation, though. Hey, my kids are in it. I’ve kind of got a stake in how it turns out. So I’ll just say, to all generations, we need more Uncle Altons. We need more people to look around them, see a need, and jump in, reward or not. We desperately need more people to ask how they can serve rather than how the world can serve them.

I struggle with it myself. I want to be noticed. I want to be successful. I want my writing, speaking, and other abilities to be recognized. I am human and fallible and too proud and competitive for my own good. But I know that what I want more than those things is to have taken what I was given and completely used it up for good, not for glory. It’s just so hard to remember that every single day.

A good definition of brave? Doing what needs to be done, because you are there and the need is before you, never caring if it’s remembered. You may never show up on a Google search. I think Uncle Alton would be glad he can’t be googled. That’s not why he went to France. This Memorial Day, I remember him. Though we never met.

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