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Monday, July 13, 2009

The Untold Story of the Greatest Generation's Trauma

A portion of Thomas Childers' article from the Boston Globe on Father's Day, June 2009:
(quoted extensively for educational purposes)

My father Tom Childers and Willis Allen, my best friend Gary’s father, were veterans of the Second World War, prototypes of what we have come to call “the Greatest Generation.” Raised in modest circumstances during the Great Depression, with little in the way of social or economic advantages, they fought and survived the war, returned home, had families, and built successful careers. They prospered, joined social clubs, watched their sons play Little League, took their families on vacations to Florida. They were model veterans, model family men.

But for Tom and Willis and many other men who returned from World War II, there was another, more complex and unsettling reality that lurked below the glossy surface of the Greatest Generation storyline. The men and women of that generation deserve all the testimonials they receive, but the uncomplicated, reassuring portrayal of their experiences found in Tom Brokaw’s best-selling book and in our public discourse has become more than a tribute to a passing generation; it has become our public memory of “the good war” and its aftermath. Indeed, it has been repeated so often in public commemorations that it has become almost an incantation, more liturgical than historical.

I thought of Willis and Tom earlier this month as I watched dignitaries and aged veterans gather in Normandy to commemorate the fateful D-Day landings of June 6, 1944. Never mentioned in such ceremonies or in the vast media attention devoted to the “Greatest Generation” is another battle our fathers waged. That battle was not fought in the fields of Europe or the jungles of the South Pacific but in towns and cities all across America, sometimes in highly public spaces - hospitals and courtrooms - but more often in parlors, kitchens, and bedrooms. As many veterans and their families would discover, the last daunting challenge of the war, for those fortunate enough to survive it, was attempting to resume a life interrupted and forever changed by war.

I wonder how many of us were part of the war our fathers continued to fight in the isolation of our homes.

Click on the title for a link to the entire article


Anonymous said...

My father was on a tank during the invasion of Normandy and was later wounded in Germany. My father was distant and always worried about something. He never talked about the war just a short story to explain the horrible scar on his back. He has been dead 10 years and I loved him and miss him alot but I was never sure that he loved me. I once saw some old home movies and there he was holding and comforting me when I had fallen down. I guess I was 2-3 yrs old. I was strangely drawn to the image. He was touching me! It did not dawn on me until about 3-4 year ago that he had PTSD. I heard a women give an interview about it and finally the strange family dynamic that I to this day can't quite describe kind of made sense. I've had to work through some pretty dysfunctional problems and still have some panic issues but at least now I kind of know the root of them. To quote Howard Zinn "There is no such thing as a good war"

Carol said...

Thanks for your post. Your experience is similar to many of us with WWII veteran fathers. We never understood the trauma they brought home from the war and how our family dynamics were impacted. Slowly, the message about undiagnosed PTSD in the WWII vet is getting some study and some acknowledgement.