The Greatest Generation

By WT Cox

Do you remember when you were 17 years old?  What were your ambitions?  What were your goals in life? The current generation has so many opportunities before them that it is hard to plan for just one goal, and many seem confused and unsure as to what path they should take in life. Technology has created countless opportunities that were un-imagined a couple of generations ago.  Today, the world seems to be in a constant state of turmoil, but compared to the world of the 1940s, our time is still very calm. We have the security of living in a “free” country with amenities that our parents could not have imagined. Today, we have comforts like air conditioning and cell phones, provisions like social security, food stamps, government assistance, health care and the availability of food and services that seem to be unlimited. Today’s generation certainly has a lot of options open to them for the future.  BUT, if you listened to some of the comments expressed in the media and on social networks today, you would think we were living in a different time. Drugs, crime, and suicide seem to be rampant.   People not willing to work and relying on government assistance seem to be more evident today. With all of the benefits that today’s society has to offer, many still find a reason to be depressed and many more find reasons to discredit and demonize our country and the future it offers. I think it would do people good to reflect on the goals and aspirations of past generations.   

 If you go back 75 years, the whole world was in turmoil. People were being slaughtered on a massive scale, and money was very hard to come by. Basic everyday items were in short supply. The world was at war. You had to process a card and stamps to purchase basic necessities such as gasoline, and then only a couple of gallons at a time. Food was hard to find… there were no fast-food restaurants and no large supermarkets to purchase groceries from, only smaller, family-owned stores. You had a hard time finding sugar, flour, and basic items for sale. There were no new cars on the market because everything was geared towards the war effort. If you needed tires for your old car, you either patched the ones you had or ran on re-caps if you were lucky enough to find them. Even the clothes you wore were rationed. I am told that designers eliminated the popular “cuffs” in pants and shirts in order to save on material that could be used for the war effort. People worked on the farm or in jobs for long hours just to make ends meet.  

  A couple of weeks ago, a lady who is a fan of the Randolph Bulletin dropped off one of her old annuals… a 1944 Ramsonian Yearbook. As I fingered my way through the worn pages of that book, I was struck by the optimism and enthusiasm of the students from that era. I grew up in the Viet Nam era, and I remember classmates receiving their lottery numbers. At that time, the lottery system was designed to compel boys of draft age to military service. I remember some boys getting low numbers… 15 or 27. We all knew that as soon as they graduated, they were off to basic training.  My lottery number was 327, and since the “draft” never got above 280, I was basically safe.  I remember the tension and the fright that came from being compelled to fight a war that was uncertain at best.  

The generation that fought in WWII had a much different mindset.  Most joined as soon as they were eligible. The “enemy” had attacked our country, and the evil that was the Nazi and Japanese Empire must be defeated if freedom was to prevail. Patriotism and Love of Country were good things. My father tried three times to enlist in the Army, but was turned down for flat feet… until he demanded to be put into the infantry to prove he could handle it…. That is where he was put.  It was his patriotic duty to enlist and many of his cousins were already serving.  Most of his friends had enlisted too; They did not wait to be drafted.  Many were already on the battlefield and some had already given the ultimate sacrifice when my father finally got accepted.  

 Imagine being a senior in high school during that time.  Boys that you had played ball with the prior year were now fighting on some God-forsaken island or battlefield in Europe.  When the 1944 Ramsonion was being put together, D Day was still months away. Victory was still very much in doubt. While the tide had turned in the Pacific, the Nazi regime still held most of Europe and the free world was in danger of collapsing. It was a very challenging time to be a teenager graduating from high school. While looking through the 1944 Ramsonian,  I am amazed at the optimism that generation had for their future.  Surely most, if not all of the junior and senior class knew of someone from their community that was serving in harm’s way.  Perhaps a classmate who has volunteered, or a relative. The ground war that accounted for most of the war’s causalities was basically fought by teenagers.  Boys 18, 19, and 20 years old would be storming the beaches of Normandy in just a few months, yet as you read their Class Prophecy, they were looking forward to careers, marriage, and raising families. The only indication of a War in the annual are the pictures of some classmates serving in the Navy and the patriotism expressed in the “Class Poem” with reference to the Purple Heart that is awarded to those wounded in battle.

A special thanks to Ms. Doris Burgess for lending us her 1944 Ramsonian. 

Ecclesiastes 1:9

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

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