Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Hidden Legacy of World War II

We tend to think of those who served in World War II as the "Greatest Generation." And in many ways, they were. But when we hear those words, we don't think of alcoholism. We don't think of post traumatic stress disorder. We don't think of nightmares and flashbacks. We don't think of what happened to those soldiers who came back from the war after the parades and thank you's.

We have perpetuated a myth, and that myth is this: that soldiers of World War II returned home from war, resumed their normal lives, and never had any problems.

This is not a myth for some. There were those who adjusted to civilian life just fine. But for too many, this was not the case, and for too long, we have ignored their stories.

In The Hidden Legacy of World War II: A Daughter's Journey of Discovery, Carol Schultz Vento gives us an intimate, in-depth look at the deep emotional and psychological wounds suffered by combat veterans of the war. Her father, immortalized in the 1960 movie, The Longest Day, was Arthur "Dutch" Schultz, a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day.

Growing up, Carole suffered through her father's drinking, his inability to hold down a job, and the endless fights between him and her mother. Little did she know that several other children of World War II combat veterans were suffering the same fate. Yet no one talked about it, least of all the veterans themselves. The U.S. Army told many of them they were suffering such emotional turmoil because they'd "had a difficult childhood" or were "psychologically weak." No one seemed to understand, or wanted to understand. Some soldiers tried to relieve the constant pain through dramatic means like lobotomies. Others used alcohol and drugs. Still others committed suicide.

Yet we do not hear about this side of the war. We have sanitized World War II and in doing so, we have turned these men into something they're not - supermen. Are they heroes? Unquestionably. But they are also human, and their suffering is very real.

Though not nearly as many studies have been done on World War II veterans and PTSD as have been done on Vietnam veterans and the wars of today, Vento has done her research, and it shows in her well-written narrative. We read of a daughter's frustration and fear, insecurity and helplessness, all emotions experienced by several other children of World War II veterans as documented in Vento's book.

It's a powerful book and can and should be read in conjunction with Thomas Childers' work on the subject, Soldier from the War Returning: The Greatest Generation's Troubled Homecoming from World War II

As William Tecumseh Sherman said, "War is hell." Yes, even World War II, the "Good War" was hell. We must never forget this. For many WWII combat vets, they've continued to endure the hell of war for more than sixty years. While we must continue to honor them, we also must continue to chip away at the myth of the stoic warrior who was unaffected by the horrors of war. We do them a disservice when we refuse to acknowledge the post-war difficulties they endured, and they do not deserve that. Instead, they deserve our thanks, our gratitude, and most importantly, our acceptance of their humanness.

For more information or to read other stories of children of the Greatest Generation, visit Daughters of D-Day, a site started by Carol and another daughter of a D-Day veteran.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

68th Anniversary of D-Day

"Crossed rifles in the sand are a comrade's tribute to this American soldier who sprang ashore from a landing barge and died at the barricades of Western Europe. This picture was made by a Coast Guard Combat Photographer who went in with the invaders of France." - Source, WWII Archives

The Invasion of France began on this day 68 years ago. It has been documented in films like The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. But no one will ever be able to accurately depict the horror of charging up those beaches. Only the brave men themselves who partook in this historic moment will ever know the truth of those seconds, those minutes, those hours of fighting.

But we must remember them, both those who died and those who lived. Both made sacrifices. Both endured terror. All of them deserve our respect and our gratitude. 

Monday, June 04, 2012

Website Review: WWII Archives

If you're looking for an absolute treasure trove of historical documents, photographs, and lots and lots of other information on World War II, the WWII Archives website should be a required stop on your World War II research journey.
Shortly after the landings on the French coast, two Yanks make friends with the younger element. In most cases, the Armies of Liberation met with overwhelming receptions from the civilian population. France. 9 June 1944.

Their mission statement reads as follows:

"Sixty years have past since the end of World War II and, as time goes on, the commitment and sacrifice of the greatest generation is being forgotten. Over 400,000 Americans died and by some estimates almost 80 million people from around the world died. A chapter in a history book cannot help someone understand the magnitude of this event in history. WWII Archives was founded to ensure that the commitments, sacrifices and the lessons learned from the most import event in modern history are never forgotten. Our mission is to bring together the most information, documents, photographs and video about World War II into a single site. WWII Archives will present information to researchers, historians and enthusiasts in a single and consistent interface to make researching the most important event in modern history easier."

Their photograph collection contain numerous images that have rarely been seen, both from the Pacific and European Theaters of War, and their documents collection includes actual images of U.S. ship diaries. Other documents include German code books, radio intelligence summaries, war diaries, and action reports.

Battle histories that include photographs, a list of casualties, maps, investigations, and summaries are also incredibly well done.

If you have a moment or an hour or ten, you can easily get sucked into the wonderful content on this site. It's well worth whatever time you invest in it, then some.