When They Were Eighteen

June 20, 2008, 12:00 pm; posted by
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I grew up in the 1960s, watching movies about World War II. It settled into my psyche as just another piece in the giant puzzle of life here in America. It meant nothing more or less to me than the death of JFK or the rise and fall of Richard Nixon; it was less important than the Oakland A\’s or the New York Yankees; it was certainly no more relevant than the Revolutionary or Civil Wars. It was all just history, until I met my father-in-law.

He passed away a few years ago, but I have a picture of him hanging in my hallway: a young man in his army uniform, leaning against a stump in some woods near where he grew up in the Adirondacks. He served in the Army and participated in the retaking of the Philippines, among other things, and I had 20 years to listen to his stories about those days.

He looks so young in that picture.

Now, when I look back at World War II and hear those men and women called “The Greatest Generation,” I think of him — and I am dumbfounded at their accomplishments. When I was 18, it was an adventure to have my own license and car; it was scary going off to college, even a little community college in my own hometown. When they were 18, they were sent halfway across the world, to kill or be killed. I can\’t get my mind around it.

When my son was 18, I was worried sick when he was 30 minutes late getting home from his job at the grocery store two blocks from our house. I can\’t imagine the horror of a father sending his children off to war, never seeing them alive again.

When I was 18, I had dreams like anyone. I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I wanted to meet a woman who would be my best friend and lover for the rest of my life. I wanted to have children and grandchildren, and watch them grow up.

When they were 18, I\’m sure they had all those same dreams: college, marriage, children. I can\’t imagine teenagers surrendering all that to die in the fields and forests of Europe; to find their final resting place on the blood-soaked beaches of France, the jungles of the South Pacific.

When they were 18, they saved the world.

How do we ever thank them?


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