Greatest Generation

Five years ago, when Emory geriatrician Wilson Holland was reading Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, about those who grew up in the Great Depression and then fought in World War II, he found it hard to put down.

Geriatric specialist Wilson Holland

Geriatric specialist Wilson Holland asked his patients to write their war memories in his copy of the Greatest Generation.


Emory and the Atlanta VA Medical Center

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Greatest Generation

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As a doctor in the VAMC’s Bronze Outpatient Geriatric Clinic for patients 75 and older, Holland had worked with thousands of these men and women.

When his older patients came into the clinic, mostly veterans from WWII and the Korean War, he began asking them if they would like to write down their name, where they served, and perhaps a few of their memories.

More than 1,000 veterans now have written in the book, describing experiences such as watching the flag being raised at Iwo Jima, seeing shrapnel barely miss a sleeping off-duty nurse, and tapping out the telegraph message that President Roosevelt had declared war. Many also brought in photographs, medals, and other memorabilia that are displayed throughout the clinic, along with the book itself.

For some, writing in the book was a continuation of commemorations they were already involved in: one veteran made it his mission to attend the funeral of every veteran in his county; another asked Holland to write a letter of permission required by the French Health Ministry for the 84-year-old to join a group of paratroopers repeating their jump into Normandy 60 years earlier.

For others, painstakingly recording memories marked the first time they had ever talked about their experience. The outpouring often surprised their families.

For many veterans, reading about others’ experiences and writing about their own has been therapeutic. For the caregivers at the VA, it also is “a familial experience,” says Holland. “Their memories give us and the young Emory doctors we are training more insight into the lives of our patients and another way to honor their service and the courage and sacrifices they made for our freedom.”

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