Friday, December 7, 2012

A Look Back at the WWII Generation

I have visited World War II reenactments here and there and, although I have been to these events before, I've noticed that lately this era of the early 1940's seems to be gaining greater interest amongst visitors as well as reenactors, especially the younger set - those in their twenties.

I think it's great to show (hopefully accurately) another important era in our country's history, which is so important.

And for the reenactors - both soldier and civilian - who portray people from the early '40's, the information directly from those that lived it is right at their fingertips. These reenactors can actually speak to and hear first-hand just what it was like at home and across the ocean straight from the mouths of those who lived it. First hand accounts such as: The first torpedoes hit the Oklahoma with a crump and a boom. One sailor later remembered a phonograph playing the popular song "Let Me Off Uptown."
The battleship's lights went out; emergency lights flickered on, went out, came on again. The big ship started to list. Within twenty minutes it started to roll over.

(From the Time-Life History of World War II)

My father in 1945
My mother and father are/were part of that "Greatest Generation" - that group of people who lived through the Great Depression and WWII. I'm sure that moniker irks some who feel that this generation is not the greatest. But, I have to disagree, for I feel they truly were the epitome of America at its best. Think about it, after the 'high' of the roaring twenties, life came crashing down, literally, for millions. But, for the greater majority of Americans, they persevered, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and working two, three, and even four jobs to eke out a living; my mother told me how her mother, a divorce', would sell apples at night after the kids were put to bed. She also told me of the Christmas present she and her three sisters received one year: two sisters received a baby doll, and the other two received a baby doll carriage. That was it. And now the four girls were forced to play together if they wanted to enjoy their gifts. 
During the anniversary date of Pearl Harbor my mother will tell us where she was when she first heard about the attack (playing jump rope on her front walk). She'll explain the details of how she and her sisters ran throughout the neighborhood to collect tin, rubber, grease, and newspapers for the "war effort." And then the 'home-y' stories of listening to her favorite radio shows, playing games such as 'kick the can,' and working at the local 5 and 10 cent store.

My mother at the end of WWII

Then there is the music she (and my father) used to listen to: Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Kay Kyser, and all the great band leaders, along with their main singers such as the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Ginny Simms, Johnny Desmond, Peggy Lee, Anita O'Day, and so many others. Music that, because my parents were of the era, I heard almost as often as The Beatles when I was growing up.
One would think that with all of this first-hand information readily available that someone like me - a social and living historian - would be jumping at the chance to participate in such a time-travel opportunity.
Heck, I even live in one of those WWII houses - built in 1944! And with mid-20th century Americana collectibles easily accessible, I could quickly and accurately convert my house to look as it did when it was first built.
Although I dearly love the early 1940's era - the movies, the music, and the patriotism - I have absolutely no interest in recreating that time. I have no interest in 'becoming my parents.'
When you think about it, except for television and music, the year 1967, for instance, was not very far removed from 1944, for many of the same things existed between the two eras: radio, records, movies, style of cooking, the electric light, photography, the nuclear family, plastic, automobiles and all that goes with them: gas stations, traffic jams, buses...also, airplanes, refrigeration of food, bicycles, fans, even some clothing styles...I could go on and on.

All were in existence in very similar forms in both years.

Besides the memories we hear/heard from our parents and/or grandparents, we also have the original movies and newsreels readily available to help us learn of the era in even greater detail. Movies we grew up watching, such as Casablanca, Meet Me In St. Louis, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Citizen Cane, and even Dumbo, are as familiar to us as any modern movie. And, as I mentioned earlier, the houses so many of us lived (and still live in) were built during (or shortly before) the WWII era.
In fact, due to our parent's, aunt's, and uncle's stories, their music, and the classic movies we grew up hearing and watching, those of us who are the children of WWII parents - baby boomers is what they call us, right? - almost feel as if we, too, lived through that era as well, don't we? I mean, it literally surrounded us as children, didn't it? And until the counter-culture revolution of the early 1970's we also held most of the same values and mores of our parent's time as well.
I guess what I am trying to say is that the life I lived growing up in the 1960's and early 1970's was much closer to the 1940's style of living when compared to the 21st century way of life filled with smart phones, home computers, Blue Ray, CD's, DVR, ipads, GPS's, and satellite or cable TV.  All three time periods (1940's, 1960's, and 2012), however, are of the "electric era" - therefore, modern in their own way.
And that's why I have no interest in reenacting the WWII era. It's just too close to my own early life, and I have no interest in reliving that - been there, done that!
Attempting to live in the 1860's, to me, is far more interesting and exciting. To learn how to recreate a world where none of the things mentioned above exists today, save for a few antiquated items, is a pleasurable challenge that I can't seem to get enough of. And the way of life is far enough removed that every time I read a new book about the Civil War era, or speak to one who has studied the era much more extensively than I, or even when I attend a reenactment, a whole new (old) world opens wide for me.

And I love that!
Like I said, I am very glad that we have WWII reenactors and living historians to keep that moment-in-time alive, and I enjoy visiting the WWII reenactments, but that's where my interest ends. I guess I am a true Victorian in my living history sensibilities, and that's where I plan to stay.


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