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The Greatest Generation – at home

I was 8 years old when, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Four days later, on Dec. 11, Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States. America’s isolationist mentality disappeared as we found ourselves involved in the world’s travails as never before. Long lines of volunteers sought to enlist in our armed forces. Young boys and old men falsified their ages in order to join the Army, Navy and Marines. The Atlantic and Pacific oceans, we realized, were no longer our moats.

The people of that generation had been tested and tried in the Great Depression, an economic disaster that had been at it worst levels in 1938 and 1939. Tooling up our factories in order to supply the British and French with armaments was beginning to lift Americans out of the Depression’s nadir. A new car cost $925.00 and a house $6,900. Milk was 34 cents a gallon; gasoline 19 cents a gallon and a postage stamp 3 cents. Americans’ average annual household income was $2,050.

Women went to work, taking the places of the men who went off to war. The Army, Navy and Marines organized branches of their services for women. A social revolution took place with swiftness never before witnessed in human history.

Here at home, households were given ration stamps that allowed only limited consumption of gasoline, butter, meat, sugar, fuel oil and rubber tires. Even shoes were rationed.

There was a neighborly bonding between folks at all levels, a spirit that told us: “We’re all in this together.” Sacrifice was not particularly heroic, it was simply necessary.

The greatness of that generation was found in multiple causes and in many aspects of human living. There were some people who quite literally wanted to rule the world. They claimed for themselves the prerogatives of God over human life. We were fighting against the debasement of what it means to be human.

Ordinary, plain, humble Americans of little means, struggling up from a terrible depression, stood up and said “No!” No, they said, we are endowed by our Creator with our human rights, rights that we will not allow tyrants to take from us. “No!” we said to the Fascists and the Axis powers. We will die before you deprive us of what God has made us to be. And if we must die, will die free men and women.

The rest is history – a living history. We are the heirs of that generation. How, we should ask ourselves, will we spend our inheritance?

– Father Charlie Irvin

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