The War Years

World War II seems both near and far away. In one sense, it seems like only yesterday that I was 17 years old, in uniform, and in Georgia and California. In another sense, that period is ancient history. We have traversed a century or more in human experience since the early 1940's.

The conflict was a vast maelstrom that changed the world more than anyone imagined at the time. The war involved colossal sacrifice for those who were thrown into baffle. It shattered peaceful lives. It sent Americans from quiet communities into the most remote regions of the globe. It brought the United States out of the Great Depression and turned sharecroppers into riveters in shipyards. It caused a major migration from the sleepy Southern back country to the industrial heartland of the Midwest, thereby producing severe social upheaval in the decades to follow. It spawned different social and economic realities, a different and higher technological order, different politics, and different sets of notions about how people should behave toward each other. Those of us who were born in the 1920's found ourselves catapulted into another age.

I saw nothing of the violent side of World War II, actual combat, or the faraway places, though at the time, the military encampments of California seemed very far away indeed. I also recognized nothing of the change that the war was working in American life. I never anticipated the social transformation...

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