"...Nearly 300,000 people from this generation were killed and 670,000 wounded during a five-year span. Those left on the homefront endured rationing of everyday items from food to gasoline, making the land of adjustments and sacrifices that many of American consumers would probably find difficult, if not intolerable..."
Heroes: the Army
102nd Infantry Division
European Theater of Operations
A Generation of Builders,
Doers and Heroes
The following was an editorial in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on January 1, 1999.
While not perfect, the members of the WWII generation leave to their progeny many traits worthy of emulation.
Watching those harrowing scenes in last summer's "Saving Private Ryan" wasn't easy. In addition to conveying the horrific and bloody feeling for what war is like, the film reminded many of the terrible loss suffered by a special generation of Americans that Franklin Roosevelt once claimed had "a rendezvous with destiny."
More than half a century later, survivors of the WWII generation or, as this newspaper has described it, the Heroic Generation, can look back collectively at a century of great change that occurred on a stage where they were the lead actors. It was their generation, more than any other, that forged what we now call the "American Century."
From enduring great economic despair, to vanquishing Nazism and communism, to building a great national economic engine, the generation of Americans born between 1901 and 1925 was undoubtedly the most influential of the 20th century. The resourcefulness, perseverance and determination of this group have earned for them the collective status as a generation of builders, doers, and heroes.
It was a generation whose shared purpose and common ethos brought them through very tough times to eventually go on to remake the postwar American society, a feat described by some writers as nothing less than Promethean. Yet the members of this generation seldom viewed themselves as the great shapers of the century. They were merely "doing their duty" or "doing what was right."
In a less flattering way, the WWII generation is sometimes characterized as too rigid, rationalistic and stoic or, using the archaic vernacular,just plain "square." Authority was followed more often than it was questioned. Trust, both in people and in institutions was more evident on the part of this generation than any other since.
Others might criticize the generation for the slow response (or lack of it) to problems relating to race, women s rights and the environment. And of course we can't forget The Bomb. But if the children and grandchildren of the WWII generation can momentarily set aside their own personal prejudices and family baggage, they may discover certain positive characteristics and qualities unique to the oldest generation that may be worth passing on to the children of the next millennium. The following are some notable examples:
Perseverance and Resilience. It is impossible for the Boomers and the subsequent generations to fathom what this generation lived through during the formative years from childhood to young adulthood. Fortunately, the level of economic deprivation and social dislocation brought on by the Great Depression hasn't been repeated. Large shanty towns built of driftwood and long lines to soup kitchens are a distant memory. Rather than worry about how we're going to eat, we are now more concerned about the status of our retirement portfolios.
Equally incomprehensible is the magnitude of human loss experienced during WWII. Nearly 300,000 people from this generation were killed and 670,000 wounded during a five-year span. Those left on the homefront endured rationing of everyday items from food to gasoline, making the land of adjustments and sacrifices that many of American consumers would probably find difficult, if not intolerable.
Yet despite these harsh conditions, most families persevered, and resilience was given rule of survival. "We're going to get through this," was a phrase frequently heard. The sheer tenacity required to survive and endure those times remain instructive. While future generations will hopefully never have to face the same types of struggles, the story is one that, like the Holocaust and Jim Crow, belongs in our long-term collective memory.
Heroism and Self-Sacrifice. While American society today often strains to find public symbols of selfsacrifice and heroism, the WWII generation was never short of those who faced and overcame great challenges and adversities: From the daring spirit of Charles Lindbergh -- long before the war -- through the welcome-back parades for GIs and the early "right stuff" astronauts, to the medical breakthrough of Jonas Salk and feats of sports legends such as Jesse Owens and Joe DiMaggio, theirs was a generation inspired by the examples of others. Indeed, John Glenn's recent flight back into space revives traces of this spirit. Yet Glenn, true to the character of his generation, chose to focus on the purpose of his mission rather than indulge in his celebrity status.
While there are many unsung heroes living among us, where are our great public symbols of sacrifice and heroism today? For a brief and shining period of time, the humility, honor and good natured competition of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa echoed the spirit of an earlier era.
Family Cohesion. With the divorce rates averaging half of today's levels and out of wedlock births substantially fewer, the notion of marriage as a durable bond and a prerequisite for child-rearing largely prevailed among members of the WWII generation. Whether due to upbringing or the absence of no-fault divorce laws or both, the marriages of members of the eldest generation possessed a longevity that is much less common today. While the romanticized image of Walton's Mountain and the stereotyped placidity of June and Ward Cleaver were more fiction than reality, the upshot was that families practiced what modern commentators as differentas William Bennetand Hillary Rodham Clinton have exhorted today's families to do. Stay together.
Consensus and Teamwork. Author and historian Steven Ambrose has written about the strong commitment to community, service and teamwork exhibited by this generation of "Citizen Soldiers." The experiences of war left profound and lasting changes, not the least of which was a strong sense of common purpose coupled with a "can-do" attitude towards life's challenges. With hard work, persistence, team effort, and yes, a plan, there was little this generation perceived it could not accomplish.
From large WPA projects to hordes of infantrymen storming Europe and the Far East, to the construction of skyscrapers, interstate highways and sprawling mazes of suburbs, the image projected is one of a vast society of worker bees, where participation was massive and the projects were always big.
During the 1960s the generation's leaders set out to conquer a new set of goals and objectives. Some, such as the War on Poverty and Vietnam, ended in disappointment, while others, such as the approval of the Civil Rights Act and the moon landing were noble successes. The protracted defeat of communist authoritarianism was the last victory they would claim.
One wonders what new great accomplishments could be realized if future generations of Americans moved forward together, guided by a spirit on consensus and cooperation.
We stand at a unique passage in our history. As we welcome a new century filled with great promise and uncertainty, we are also bidding a long farewell tothe last of a specific generation. It is also a fundamentally different time from theirs, where persistence and resilience are frequently overshadowed by instant gratification and dependence, heroism and sacrifice give way to cynicism and gain, teamwork and collective purpose are lost to crass individualism and group balkanization, and family cohesion is replaced by families in fragmentation. If there is truth to the notion that history often repeats itself, it may do the upcoming generations well to look back and learn from the successes as well as the mistakes of the makers of the 20th century. And the hope is that, unlike their forebears, they won't need to experience a series of crises to unite them and galvanize their spirit, but merely the will to do it.
The author of this piece is Michael G. Tsichlis, a consultant and free-lance writer. It was sent to us by Bob Enkelmann with the comment "Looks like somebody appreciates us. "
----- Michael G. Tsichlis
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
102 Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
Gardelegen War Crime
The above story, "A generation of builders, doers and heroes ", by Michael G. Tsichlis, a consultant and free-lance writer, [Sent in by: Enkelmann, Robert E. "Bob" , 405-H] was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 51, No. 3, April/June 1999, pp. 16-17.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 28 March 2004.
Story added to website on 3 April 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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