Thanks due to those of the 'Great Generation'

  • Published
  • By Wendy Franklin
  • Gunfighter Spouse
The 66th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor is almost here, and each of us should take a moment to reflect and give thanks to those of our grandparent's generation who served America during World War II, especially those of us fortunate enough to be a part of today's military.

We all endure hardships today, but few compare to what the men and women of that time faced. Each household did their part for the war effort by rationing and recycling everything they could. Their lives were truly limited in many ways.

Our generation can claim the horror of Sept. 11, 2001, but how did it really affect our daily lives and its basic functions? We still had plenty of tissues to dry our tears. We could still cook ourselves a steak if we wanted. Any woman, in the months that followed, didn't have to change what kind of clothing she wanted to buy. If our TV broke, we still just threw it out and got a new one. We were, and still are, free to mourn and cope without having any major changes to our creature comforts.

Imagine what a family in Poland faced during the 1939 German invasion. Poland's Jews and many others were publicly discriminated against for their personal beliefs. Their homes and personal property were often seized and once rounded up, they were crammed into ghettos filled with hundreds of other families and issued food ration cards, which allowed a family only a quarter of the calories needed to sustain life.
Imagine dealing with all this while trying to care for your children. Births took place without medicine or doctors. Frequent raids terrorized the ghetto inhabitants and many a neighbor disappeared under suspicious circumstances. There was no access to news and lawyers and with time, entire families were split up and sent to separate concentration camps. The elderly and young were killed off quickly and most survivors never saw their loved ones ever again.

Those who did survive the horrors of the war often did so as slave labor in concentration camps, living in constant fear of showing any obvious signs of sickness for fear of being seen as a liability that would be quickly eliminated. For many, World War II saw the basic classification and existence as a human being completely washed away.

Now imagine what an American Soldier during World War II dealt with as they fought to liberate you. If serving on the European front, they faced death, frostbite, injury or capture. If captured, they were often worked to death or simply starved out of existence in a German prison camp. If serving in the Asia-Pacific Theater, they fought fierce Japanese soldiers who often disposed of quinine medication, which removed an invaluable cure for crippling malaria. Many captured Soldiers and Marines were forced to endure "death marches" during which resting or faltering carried a brutal punishment or death sentence.

Those who fought and those they defended knew there was a possibility America could lose the war and democracy and freedom might be erased from the Earth. Our servicemen and women did not deploy for four months or even one year deployments; they were often gone from home until the war ended two or three years after they left. Morale calls were limited to monthly letters from home; they did not enjoy daily treasures from home like e-mail messages or webcam sessions. The loved ones waiting back home had little but prayers to rely upon.

But there was hope and pride. There was less complaining and less spin. The lines were still black and white in the 1940s. This too, is a lesson to take from that generation and that war.

Military families since then have struggled with periods of high operations tempo, such as year tours in Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq, not to mention remote deployments to Korea and other far away places. We have all been a little stressed at times from the strain. Our hearts have all had despairing moments. Some of our assignments may never get any easier, but the events of World War II help to keep the good and bad in perspective.

Very few of us have or will ever face the horrors of the World War II generation and little helps a heart heal like focusing on someone who has had it more difficult. All of us should reflect and give thanks this Dec. 7. Most of all, we should hold our own heads high. Our toil, like theirs, is not in vain.