Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflectionsby Tom Brokaw
"I first began to appreciate fully all we owed the World War II generation while I was covering the fortieth and fiftieth anniversaries of D-Day for NBC News. When I wrote in The Greatest Generation about the men and women who came out of the Depression, who won great victories and made lasting sacrifices in World War II and then returned home to begin building/i>… See more details below
"I first began to appreciate fully all we owed the World War II generation while I was covering the fortieth and fiftieth anniversaries of D-Day for NBC News. When I wrote in The Greatest Generation about the men and women who came out of the Depression, who won great victories and made lasting sacrifices in World War II and then returned home to begin building the world we have today—the people I called the Greatest Generation—it was my way of saying thank you. I felt that this tribute was long overdue, but I was not prepared for the avalanche of letters and responses touched off by that book.
Members of that generation were, characteristically, grateful for the attention and modest about their own lives as they shared more remarkable stories about their experiences in the Depression and during the war years.
"Their children and grandchildren were eager to share the lessons and insights they gained from the stories they heard about the lives of a generation now passing on too swiftly. They wanted to say thank you in their own way. I had wanted to write a book about America, and now America was writing back.
"The letters, many of them written in firm Palmer penmanship on flowered stationery, have given me a much richer understanding not only of those difficult years but also of my own life. They give us new, intensely personal perspectives of a momentous time in our history. They are the voices of a generation that has given so much and wants to share even more.
"Some of the letters were written from the front during the war, or from families to their loved ones in harm's way in distant places. There were firsthand accounts of battles and poignant reflections on loneliness, exuberant expressions of love and somber accounts of loss.
"It seems that everyone in that generation has something worthwhile to contribute, and so we have included some pages in The Greatest Generation Speaks for others to share memories at once inspirational and instructive.
"If we are to heed the past to prepare for the future, we should listen to these quiet voices of a generation that speaks to us of duty and honor, sacrifice and accomplishment. I hope more of their stories will be preserved and cherished as reminders of all that we owe them and all that we can learn from them." —Tom Brokaw
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An Excerpt from The Greatest Generation Speaks
In researching The Greatest Generation, I quickly discovered that almost every war story had a love story connected with it. That led to a chapter called "Love, Marriage, and Commitment."
The chapter, in turn, elicited more love stories from the men and women of that generation. It does seem that the common struggles, the risks, the long separations at an early age, the relief of survival did forge some uncommonly strong marriages. Those couples look back on their lives together and count the durability of their union and the family it produced as their greatest achievement.
To be sure, there were failures. Passions born of youth, war, and the prospect of early death led to whirlwind romances and quickie marriages before a man was shipped overseas. But once the war was over, it was sometimes difficult to reignite those fires. Some men returned from war hardened, troubled, abusive, unable to stay in a loving relationship or fit in to a life with softer edges. Marriage counseling and other forms of psychological help were not widely available in the immediate postwar years.
So it is all the more a wonder that many marriages did endure, did flourish, especially since so many of them were embarked upon when the couples were of tender age, with little or no experience in the grown-up world they were expected to inhabit.
After a long lifetime together their love affair has come full circle. As they were once giddy with anticipation about their common future, now they have the quiet satisfaction of a promise kept.
Joe DeMaggio of Albuquerque, New Mexico, described how he and his wife, Anne, were married and included a poem one of their children wrote for their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
On December 7, 1941, my girlfriend and I had gone to the movies for her birthday and [were] faced with the truth when the picture stopped, the lights went on and the theatre manager announced that all military personnel had been ordered to their commands immediately. When we came out of the theatre the newspaper boys were telling the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We had been dating for about a year and a half and looking forward to a married life together. However, I was expecting to be drafted and decided that I would not put my wife at the risk of becoming a widow. We [remained] engaged and two months later, February 6, 1942, I reported to the Induction Center and [was] send to Camp Upton, Long Island, N.Y., and then on to Fort McClellan, Alabama, for basic infantry training....Copyright © 1999 by Tom Brokaw. Published by Random House, Inc.
When the war ended in Europe, our battalion was in the vicinity of Kassel awaiting the possibility of going home after thirty-nine months of overseas duty. Instead, our Battalion Commander informed us that our next move would be to the Pacific. I immediately wrote to my fiancee and told her not to wait for my return because I didn't expect to survive such a mission. Thanks to the A bomb our battalion was ordered to the coast of France for demobilization. I was discharged on October 11th and Anne and I were married on November 11th, Armistice Day.
We have been married for 53 years and have been blessed with two children and three grandchildren of whom we are very proud. On our 50th Anniversary, which was attended by about 75 people, including family and friends from many parts of the country, we were presented with the enclosed "Now We Are One," written by our son, Paul, and I was asked to read it aloud for everyone to hear. I was doing fine until the last paragraph when the lump in my throat was choking me.Their Parents Came from Foreign Lands,
In Search of "the Dream."
They were to work at the early age,
But also to learn and be the best they could.
Their papas and Mamas taught them to be as One.
They Played With Cans, Sticks, Rocks,
whatever imagination could fabricate for fun.
They met at work and enjoyed friendship, while
earning their way as their parents had done.
The War Disrupted Their Fun With Duty,
Honor and Love of Country.
One of them would fight the war on foreign soil,
out his life on the line for a future.
One would work in the factories at home
and pray for him to return there.
They Were Apart, But Now They Were One.
Fifty Years of Their Life Together
with all of its meaning,
Bring us here to celebrate how Two became One.
Learn Life's Lesson, Never Forget,
How You Came to This Time & Place;
You Are Who You Are,
Because They Are One.
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