My grandfather, Robert Grasty, was 16 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. Like the patriots of his era, he went straight to the Navy after his 18th birthday to voluntarily enroll. He was rejected due to a foot surgery. They said he couldn’t wear the boots. He was off the hook. But instead of going back to his life, he went to the Army. He was rejected again. So he kept trying until he successfully became a sailor for the US Merchant Marine. Not only did he choose to serve, he banged on doors until somebody said “Yes, you can risk your life for your country. Let’s get started.”
He recently passed away at 93 years of age. There are few World War II veterans left with us today. So let’s take some lessons from their generation as we pave the path for our own future.
Build for the long-term
My grandfather put himself through engineering school at Virginia Tech and then spent the meat of his career, 25+ years, at General Electric. He had a successful career and spent a good portion of it building jet engines. None of it was easy and nothing happened overnight. In today’s world, it’s easier than ever to find a new job or make a change. Personal autonomy is important and I have taken full advantage of that in my own career. I don’t think 25-year tours of duty should be the norm anymore. But we have to remember that it takes time to build things that matter. You don’t build a jet engine in a two-week sprint. You don’t win World War II in a single year. We need to mix the freedom, autonomy and creativity that is thriving in today’s workforce, with the idea that committing to things and building for the long-term matters. Because it does.
Invest in your family and community
Strong families and relationships don’t happen by accident. They happen because you invest in them and make them happen. At one point in his career, my grandfather was running a large manufacturing plant. His son, my uncle Peter, came to visit. Peter had been living on a commune, with the full hippie hair and dress code to match. Peter didn’t exactly fit in at my grandfather’s office, especially during times when there was serious tension between large corporations and the counter-culture movement. But my grandfather didn’t worry about other people’s opinions, even though his reputation and relationships were the key to his livelihood. He marched Peter in the front door, introduced him to the managers, and gave him a full tour. This sent a clear message, to Peter and to the team members at the plant, that family came first. My grandparents, like many from their generation, were constantly investing in their family and their community. Whether it was renting a lake house for family vacations, spending time with their church, coordinating dinner groups, or getting involved with local organizations, they brought people together.
Reach across the aisle
My grandmother, who inspired a post about building a successful career and a successful family, was a devoted democrat. She was actively involved with democratic activities and land conservation issues in New Hampshire. My grandfather was a staunch Republican. Yet they shared fundamental values and built a lifelong partnership, 63 years of marriage, and a loving family. I remember my dad asking my grandfather how many times their votes cancelled each other out in elections. My grandfather smiled and said “I don’t know. I never asked her who she voted for.” I assume he was half joking, but the message stuck with me. You can put politics aside in light of something greater than yourself. In a world that is increasingly politicized and partisan, let us remember that we can build relationships, organizations, and families across political barriers. It may not be the default. It may not be easy. But it is more important than ever.
Stand for something greater
It is hard to imagine what the world would be like without the sacrifices people made in World War II. What legacy will we leave for generations after us? I am not asking you to quit your job and join the peace corps. But think about your impact. Do things that make the world a little bit better. Build organizations that endure. Build real relationships with good people. Reach across an aisle or two. Stand for something greater than yourself.
In loving memory of Robert Alvin Grasty (1925-2018), US Merchant Marine (1943-1946).