Thursday, June 14, 2012
The Hidden Legacy of World War II
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.