Over the past week or so, a great deal has been said and done regarding the efforts of that critical segment of our society that has come to be known as The Greatest Generation. I am of course referring to those men and women who battled the twin demons of the Great Depression and the Second World War and then returned to build their lives in post-war America. As a baby-boomer, it was my privilege to grow up in a world that had been shaped by these men and women.
I was watching television the other night. The evening news was broadcasting live from the World War Two monument in our nation?s capitol. The thoughts and remembrances of a number of veterans from that war formed the central theme for the show. The dedication of this long-overdue monument has been a particularly moving experience for me. I ponder the memory of my father and how much he would have enjoyed all of this.
During one later part of that show, I noted that Tom Brokaw was interviewing Senator Bob Dole about his memories of World War Two. The senator spoke little of the horrible combat that robbed him of the use of one arm. He spoke volumes about the dedication and courage of the people who fought that war.
When Brokaw asked him to speak about the differences between the home-front population of World War II and the demeanor of today?s American citizens during the Iraq War, Senator Dole paused for a long moment. He then stated quite simply and sincerely that it looked as though Americans of today had lost the will to make sacrifices.
The Senator went on to speak of the various forms of rationing that people in the United States had to endure. There were restrictions on a wide variety of daily essentials, ranging from tires, to gasoline, to silk stockings. He noted that all of these sacrifices were made so that the people fighting the war would have what they needed to defeat the forces of evil running rampant in the world.
He closed by saying that it appeared as though people just did not want to give up anything to support the men and women battling the forces of evil in the world.
Why is this? My parents were, by all accounts, a fairly tough lot. My mom and dad grew to adulthood in the crucible of the depression. My English grandfather was a weaver at the rug mill in Freehold and my Polish grandfather was a stationary fireman at a hospital in East Orange. Both of my grandmothers stayed at home to raise their children and supplemented the family larder by cleaning other folk?s homes.
By all accounts, the 1930?s were a truly tough time within which to live. Money was in short supply, but at least there was work for my forbearers. Even through the periodic layoffs, my grandparents were able to keep body and soul together. I can recall my late father speaking of the sugar sandwiches he ate during those tough times. I can recall my mother?s stories of working in various factories in Newark. I can recall her speaking of walking across the city to save the cost of bus fare.
Then the war came. My dad joined the Army while he was still a senior at Freehold High School, so he had already been a soldier for more than a year and a half when the war came. By all accounts he met my mother at a wedding in Newark some time during 1942. They were married in January of 1943.
When it comes to sacrifice, my parents were really no different from others of their generation. They had a short honeymoon, and then dad shipped out for Europe. He and mom were separated for nearly two and a half years. Mom continued to work at the factory and save money for the time when dad would return. They just did what they had to do to play their part in the big picture of a world at war.
Mom endured the loneliness as best she could. I can only imagine the pain in her heart when the telegram came telling her that dad had been wounded in combat in Italy. But he lived to return home in August of 1945. All of his front line combat time had allowed him to accumulate enough points to return home just before VJ Day.