Journalist Tom Brokaw had people like Richard Riepe in mind when he coined the term "The Greatest Generation" for his best-selling 1998 book by that name.
The men and women who grew up during The Great Depression and experienced World War II, Brokaw said, “fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. When they came back they rebuilt America into a superpower.”
Riepe, 92, is a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific as a member of what was then called the Army Air Forces. The resident of Rosewood, an ABHOW continuing care retirement community in Bakersfield, Calif., is proud of his service, although he modestly disavows any claims of personal or generational greatness.
“We just had a job to do,” says the Iowa native, “and we did it.”
Soon after Riepe enlisted in the military, his superiors recognized him as a potential leader and sent him to Officer Candidate School. Riepe emerged as a second lieutenant and was assigned to the Army Air Forces Medical Department where he served at hospitals as an administrator and record keeper.
“I was in the Philippines at first,” he says. “We moved up to Japan after the surrender and worked there in the early days of the occupation.”
Along the way, Riepe was promoted to first lieutenant.
“I stayed in for 3 1⁄2 years,” he says. “And when the time came to get out, I got out.”
Upon returning to civilian life, he and his brother-in-law went into business together.
“We scraped up some money with help from the GI Bill and bought a Pepsi bottling plant in Burlington, Iowa,” he says.
Successful in business, he was also active for years as a Boy Scout leader. Riepe and his wife, Mary, moved to California after he retired. Mary passed away last year.
The ranks of World War II veterans are dwindling. The youngest are now in their late 80s, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that of the more than 16 million people who served in the military during the war, fewer than 1.8 million remain.
“I’ve outlived most of them,” Riepe says. “I guess I’m fortunate to still be around.”
Founded in 1949, ABHOW is widely known for its pioneering leadership in senior housing and health care. The company serves more than 5,000 residents in 43 retirement communities in California, Arizona, Nevada and Washington.
To learn more about ABHOW visit www.abhow.com.
This article appears in the November 2012 issue of ABHOW Words.