The Great Depression was one of the most severe economic downturns in American history, much more so than the recent Great Recession. It affected, in one way or another, everyone who served during WW II in the military or on the home front. Most of us were young kids during the boom period of the 1920s and the rather sudden downturn resulting from the economic bust that commenced in 1929 affected us rather deeply.
In my case my first memories were of a prosperous life in the city of Evansville, Indiana where we enjoyed a pretty good middle class lifestyle flowing from my dad's job as a factory worker. When the depression hit he lost his job and we moved back to where he had grown up in the small farm/coal mining country of western Kentucky. For me, even as a six-year-old that was a big cultural shock; life there was very different from that of a midsize industrial city. The story is told in my last book ("Baptists, Bibles, and Bourbon in the Barn.")
Yet on becoming a first grader in a newly consolidated school with a brand new building I adjusted quite easily. The schools must have been excellent even if in a deprived economic area. I thrived and on finishing high school at age seventeen I was brimming with ambition to obtain a college education. But there was no money for college and few scholarships. I found a job with White Castle System, Inc. restaurants nearly 800 miles away in Northern New Jersey. The times were such that I was able to support myself as well as training classes at a radio school (announcing, reading soap opera scripts, etc.) in New York City. The dynamic atmosphere there whetted the ambition further. Then came the Army and my world broadened even more.
But what was behind the ambition to get ahead? Some perhaps came from the depression experience but certainly not all and maybe not even very much. The quality of the schools, I think, provided the motivation more than anything else.
As for toughness, I really didn't possess that quality in the sense that it translated to soldering. As a rifleman carrying an M-1 rifle I was pretty inept. I had no mechanical ability and never mastered the weapon. Fortunately, my superiors recognized that and made me a messenger, a radio operator, and eventually company communications sergeant. There I excelled and earned a Certificate of Merit. (Reference "Dear Captain, et al.: the Agonies and the Ecstasies of War and Memory.")
I understand where Al is coming from but I think it pretty much comes down to the individual and the adjustment one makes to the circumstances confronted. I don't know that today’s American youth can be compared in any significant way to that of our generation. The circumstances are different. There is no general war like WW II. The wars and conflicts of recent years are not as universally supported as WW II. And yet, in the absence of a draft many volunteer for military service. I would be hard pressed to argue that their "toughens" is any less than ours. In fact, given multiple tours, difficult cultural settings, non-uniformed enemies, etc. and the ultra high physical and mental qualifications of many or most units, the opposite argument could be made. Or at least their capacity to "take it" so to speak, can be equated with ours.
Nevertheless, I think that Al's view is rather widely held right now and well worth further exploration. We are confronting many problems today, just as then. And yet, I feel rather confident that the country will meet the challenges. But not without difficulties just as there were then. Americans find a way, if not always right away.
Great to hear from you, Mark.
This board is dedicated to the memory of CAPTAIN LEONARD REED CARPENTER, Company Commander, November 19, 1944 - March 27, 1945.
BOARD HOST: Allan W. Howerton (E-mail: Allanhowerton@aol.com)