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Customer Review

53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stars in Our Windows, October 17, 2008
This review is from: The Greatest Generation (Hardcover)
The theme throughout the book is that the generation of Americans that participated in World War II rarely talk about it. My father might have been one of Tom Brokaw's examples. While I was regaled with tales of self-reliance and want during a depression, he almost never spoke about his experience in the African campaign, or the wound that nearly cost him a leg. The author made it a point of finding out a good many stories, not unlike Dad's, even as these veterans are now dying at the rate of 1800 a day. Each page was like going back to my childhood, and listening to stories I never heard before.

Brokaw leaves no stone unturned or class of veteran out in the cold. He starts with ordinary people, the people on the home front, heroes, women in uniform and out, [our] shame, love, marriage and commitment, and famous people.

The ordinary people were just that, ordinary in an extraordinary way. Parents and kids were compelled to survive by keeping the family unit intact. Parents searched for any job that would bring cloth or food to the home, and children disciplined by denial, accomplished a full day of work before going to school. They made do, they went without, or they made it themselves. These were the people who were already in training for their participation in World War II, but didn't realize it.

The people on the home front toiled eighty-hours a week to keep the troops in equipment and supplies. Farm boys were highly sought after by Boeing, builders of the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-29 Super Fortress. The company knew that when the farm tractor broke down it had to be fixed, on the spot, without help. Their intuition paid off many times over.

The home front could also be said to be the start of the women's movement. For the first time, women did jobs that had hitherto been considered only for men. Dorothy Haener never married preferring to keep her position as a UAW organizer, and her responsibilities grew as the union grew. (Marriage often meant being fired).

There were plenty of heroes who never bragged about their achievements. Although Bob Bush was a navy corpsman, he picked up an automatic pistol dropping eight charging enemy Japanese as he held a plasma bottle over a wounded marine. Instead of focusing on the Medal of Honor given him by President Truman, he raced back to the Northwest to start a thriving lumber business. Leonard "Bud" Lomell, US Army Ranger, used the G.I. Bill to go to law school and start his own law firm in New Jersey. He took his time training new lawyers and hiring women counselors. He didn't see why they should be left out. Talent and performance were his main concern just as it was in the Rangers. He never lost touch with them either.

The women in uniform during World War II, would constitute the first ever to achieve flag rank long after the war's end. They were Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS), Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS), SPARS of the Coast Guard (Semper Peratus and its English translation, Always Ready, combined), and nurses. The WASPS tested and ferried planes of all types to training sites, or from factory to airfield. Expert pilots, they were still considered civilians, and none of them received veterans' benefits even though thirty-eight of them died in the line of duty. They were unceremoniously sent home in 1944 as men filled more ranks and plane production began to taper off.

If World War II was the start of the women's movement, it certainly ignited civil rights where African American soldiers were expected to fight and die while watching German prisoners receive better accommodations than they did. Martha Settle Putney, now a retired history professor, was taking a train to her base in Texas along with several white officers who insisted that she sit with them. Even so, the train conductor refused to accept her Pullman car ticket and directed her to a freight train in the rear. Refusing to go, the conductor summoned the MP's. He was dumbfounded when the MP's, noticing her lieutenant's bars, simply saluted. They courteously escorted her to a military plane that would take her to her assignment. Martha Putney recognized that the war gave her an opportunity that she would have never dreamed of otherwise.

Our shame went beyond our treatment of African Americans. Nisei, Americans of Japanese ancestry, were rounded up as "enemy combatants" and placed in internment camps while their property and work of a lifetime was lost or stolen. It saw the best in us, as one Nisei left his grocery store in the hands of an employee. "It'll be here when you get back," he told him. True to his word, he simply handed back the keys when the owner returned. But the experience more aptly demonstrated our darker character. Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye, in uniform, and minus one arm, was refused a haircut in Honolulu. He was one of hundreds of volunteers, most of them from the camps that would make up the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The regiment was awarded seven Presidential Unit Citations and twenty-one of their members received the Medal of Honor. The "Go for Broke" RCT became the most highly decorated regiment in US history.

The intensity of war also brought the intensity in love and relationships where the separations actually made the bonds grow stronger, and the feeling that so much time apart meant that there was so much more time to make up for together. Wives became accustomed to their husbands' nightmares and their industry to ensure their family would never have to want. They wouldn't divorce. Marriage was a commitment as strong as the one to put on a uniform, or to hold a family together in a depression. Some wives and sweethearts found little to celebrate on V-J Day, as the War Department had already informed them that their loved one would not be coming home, or would not see the child born in their absence.

Many would achieve fame in a variety of endeavors: Ben Bradlee, Art Buchwald, Andy Rooney, Julia Child, Gertrude Belle Elion, Chesterfield Smith, Al Neuharth, Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. Many others would enter politics such as Mark Hatfield, Robert Dole, George H. W. Bush, Daniel Inouye, Casper Weinberger, Lloyd Cutler, George Schultz, Arthur Schlesinger, and Ed Guthman.

What becomes clear is that this generation learned discipline and faith through the depression. They gained confidence and a deeper faith through war. A promise or handshake was as good as a contract, and a marriage was for life. They survived a depression and would not allow themselves to be beaten by enemies that were mere mortals. They helped America achieve a greatness that it had never known before, and will never have again. Being an American in 1945 had as much prestige as saying, "I am a citizen of Rome" did in its day. Tom Brokaw simply tells the stories of people across the country who did their part in World War II and how they readjusted to civilian life. These are common stories that held my interest from start to finish.

We honored these veterans a long time ago when there were stars in the windows of our homes and shops; blue for those serving, silver for those overseas, and the dreaded gold for those killed in action. We still have the ability to learn first hand about those who delivered our nation from fascism and totalitarianism. Although Veterans Day is a holiday, we can make it a learning day by asking and listening to those who served at home and around our globe.

We could actually spend this Veterans Day honoring our veterans.

This is for you, Dad. US Army Signal Corps 1939-1945
Happy Birthday: Oct. 16.

March 10, 2010:
Today, in our nation's capital, surviving women of the W.A.S.P.s are finally being honored with a Congressional Gold medal for the service they courageously performed during World War II. They will also qualify for full veterans' benefits. It's about time!
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Showing 1-10 of 29 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 17, 2008 1:04:21 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 30, 2009 2:28:55 PM PST]

Posted on Oct 17, 2008 1:12:14 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 18, 2008 5:13:08 AM PDT
This is a fine review!
Edit: I had to come back and amend my comment above. That was the first time I had read one of your reviews in a long time and was startled by it. I had forgotten what a good writer you are! I was deeply moved by this review and the tribute you gave to this "greatest generation," for, truly, that is what they are.

Posted on Oct 17, 2008 2:14:54 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 30, 2009 2:28:56 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 17, 2008 2:18:57 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Oct 28, 2008 1:42:50 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 17, 2008 2:22:19 PM PDT
Creed says:
I read this book about 8 years ago. Your review is well done and brought back a lot of memories of the stories of these incredible folks. However, I offer a difference of opinion (you know I always do...) with something in your review.
Saying that the phrase "I'm from America" was once as prestigious and proud as saying "I'm from Rome", is just over the top. We all know the "fall of Rome" and I dislike the comparison. It's a bit too obvious with the "America is going to hell in a hand basket" schtick.
Other than that one small disgreement, your review was quite lovely and touching. Here's to your father!

Posted on Oct 17, 2008 2:25:38 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 30, 2009 2:28:56 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 17, 2008 2:35:58 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 30, 2009 2:28:56 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 17, 2008 2:47:25 PM PDT
Creed says:
Saying you were an American in 1945 had as much prestige as saying, "I am a citizen of Rome" did in its day.-From your review...

I admit I misquoted the "saying you were an American" portion with "I am from America". But I can draw the same disagreement as stated above in my post.
hmmmm. I am an American.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 17, 2008 2:53:52 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 30, 2009 2:29:57 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 17, 2008 3:10:07 PM PDT
Creed says:
Hey no fair touching up the posts. Edit your reviews, but posts should stand as submitted. yea, I caught that in post #7!

just for the record, I didn't want to make this political.
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