The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw
Brokaw begins the book with his experience of standing on the beach at Normandy with veterans of D-Day. It was the spring of 1984 and he was preparing an NBC documentary on the 40th anniversary of that invasion. He became aware that this enormous undertaking had been fueled by the lives of ordinary people. He set out to gather their stories and the result was a remarkable book. Chapter One, “The Time of their Lives” sheds light on this time period and sets the tone for subsequent chapters that tell tales of “Women in Uniform and Out,” “Love, Marriage, and Commitment,” “Shame,” “Heroes,” and much more.
My father served in World War II, as did my four uncles and my father-in-law. I honored them last year when I wrote “My Greatest Generation: A Tribute to the Veterans in my Life,” and I continue to feel gratitude for their willingness to serve their country. But what about those left at home? What was the war like for my mother, the youngest child, whose teenage years were shadowed by the war with her older brothers all fighting in the Pacific arena? She talks of rationing and German POW’s coming to work in the fields. Her story is still waiting to be recorded.
I was awakened to the urgency of recording the stories of this generation when I attended a lecture by Ken Burns at Brigham Young University on March 27, 2007. He showed clips of his documentary “The War”and talked of how those who were a part of the Second World War were dying by the hundreds each day. His lecture moved me to tears at times, especially as I watched ordinary men and women telling their stories. This quote from his lecture perhaps sums up this time period best.
It was the last time this country was truly one. There were no red states or blue states then or a separate military class suffering all the losses apart and alone or a sense of disconnect from what was happening to our men, our men, overseas. We were all together on this one – an exceptional unity we can only hope to reclaim one day. ¹
What will you do this month to honor the veterans in your life? Is it time to record their stories? Before it’s too late, interview those who lived through World War II. Their impressions, their memories, their experiences just may give hope to the next generation.
¹BYU Magazine, “Voices of History,” Summer 2007 Issue ( https://magazine.byu.edu/article/voices-of-history/ : accessed 27 October 2016).