They call it “The Greatest Generation” for a reason.
And the second part of that group’s great run began 78 years ago Saturday.
It was Dec. 7, 1941 that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, thrusting the United States into World War II, which had begun two years earlier.
A kick in the gut?
But not a knockout blow. In fact, it was far, far from it, as it turned out.
For what the Japanese, Germans and the rest of the forces that made up the Axis powers somehow, amazingly, did not realize is that these Americans had already been used to getting kicked in the gut for the previous 12 years. That came with their perseverance through something else that was great, but in a negative way, the Great Depression.
The aforementioned amazing aspect of all that is that the Axis countries were in the Great Depression, too, as it affected not just the U.S., but the entire world. They could see what it was doing to their own people, but they failed to understand how that served to steel the Americans’ resolve to survive, albeit in another way other than economically, but survival nonetheless.
However, here’s the chapter of the Greatest Generation’s story that doesn’t get told nearly enough. Think about this for a minute: Young people come of age when they turn 18 and graduate from high school. It is the beginning of their long-awaited chance to spread their wings, find their professional and personnel niche and conquer the world. The problem in the case of those in the Greatest Generation was that their entry into this key juncture of their lives came at a time when there were no jobs and thus no opportunities. As such, what was waiting for them was poverty. In fact, it was the most extreme poverty in the history of the U.S. – still, to this day.
So instead of soaring, they just stayed grounded. Their dreams had to be put on hold, For how long, they did not know. Nobody knew. The end to that economic disaster came, but not in a way that anyone could have imagined, or wanted.
So, just how did the Great Depression end? When the U.S. industrial machine went into action to build arms to fight World War II.
What would you have done if, after spending 10 years waiting to begin your adult life in a meaningful way, you are faced with a new and much more dangerous and life-altering nightmare that postpones it even longer?
But instead of complaining about it or, lacking the strength to continue to endure and thus just giving up, the members of the Greatest Generation simply dug in and went about saving the country, the Allies and the world for democracy.
It wasn’t easy, but they did it.
Victory came at quite a cost, though. It was a long, grueling battle that lasted four months short of four years. Many of those looking forward to someday beginning their lives, lost them. And a lot of those who survived came away scarred physically, emotionally and mentally. Those servicemen were never the same.
But the women were part of this heroic effort as well – a big, big part, in fact. Whereas many of them weren’t even in the workforce – because of the Great Depression, there was little workforce needed, and that which existed was made up nearly entirely of men – they dutifully headed from the farms and small towns where most of them lived and headed to the big cities to work in those all-important factories that built the weapons that did so much to win the war.
Finally, when peace arrived in August 1945 with Japan’s surrender just three months after that of the Germans, you can see why that sailor grabbed a nurse in the celebration in Times Square and kissed her like there was no tomorrow.
With most of these people having advanced into their late 20s or early 30s, it was time for them to, with two big victories already under their belts, finally take a deep breath and begin some of the fun stuff they had had to put on hold.
As you go about your business on Saturday, keep all of this in mind, for without the great effort of The Greatest Generation, we would all be speaking Japanese and German right now.