Excerpt from The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Greatest Generation

By Tom Brokaw

The Greatest Generation
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  • Hardcover: Nov 1998,
    412 pages.
    Paperback: May 2001,
    412 pages.

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War and Remembrance:
Three Women and How They Served

Maion Rivers Nittel: "A full-blown spirit of patriotism was in every heart."

Claudine "Scottie" Lingelbach: "I want to tell my grandchildren I was more than a pinup girl in the Great War."

Alison Ely Campbell: "You had to do your part."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Marion Rivers's life was centered on her family, her job, and her small city of Attleboro, Massachusetts, until the war caught up to America. Then the company for which she worked, General Plate Division of Metals and Controls Corporation, was immediately forced to convert from making rolled gold plate for jewelry to producing technical instruments for military purposes.

She remembers the pride of all the employees when the company was awarded a large E for excellence and the Army and Navy organized a ceremony to present a banner to be flown outside the plant. "I can still see that flag," Marion says, "snapping on the flagpole whenever I entered and left the building." She believes it was the last time "in the history of our country when a full-blown spirit of true patriotism was in every heart."

Claudine "Scottie" Scott shared that spirit of patriotism during her freshman year at the University of Kansas in the autumn of 1940. "It was a fun, exciting time," she says, "but by the following fall, the campus had changed considerably. All of the boys were gone." Scottie decided to enlist in the Navy's female auxiliary, the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service), and when the student newspaper, The Daily Kansan, asked why, she recalled a cartoon of two WACs walking down the street, one saying to the other, "I want to tell my grandchildren I was more than a pinup girl in the Great War."

Scottie wanted to be in on the action as well. As she says, "My generation was highly patriotic. Back when I was in junior high the words ENTER TO LEARN, GO FORTH TO SERVE were carved at the entrance to the school. Those words affected me in many ways. I served."

She applied for a commission in the WAVES. Not only was she commissioned, she was assigned to the prestigious duty of serving on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She was an administrative assistant and a courier, delivering highly classified papers to the White House every day. "I went to a basement room - the War Room - and they'd open the door only six inches to take the report from me. It was a log of the fighting going on all over the world."

Alison Ely was doing graduate work in California. She was from a prominent Oregon family, and when Pearl Harbor was attacked her parents wanted her to return to Portland. She had other ideas. She got a job at an Oakland, California, shipyard, saying now, "You had to do your part."

In Attleboro, just outside her company's plant, Marion Rivers came to know the war effort through the troop trains that often stopped on a nearby siding, headed for Camp Myles Standish, a major point of embarkation for Europe.

When the trains stopped, the women in the plant would be summoned to a conference room to assemble baskets of fruit, candy, gum, and cigarettes for the GIs. Marion and the others would first head for the ladies' room "to remove our silk stockings, which were as scarce as hen's teeth - shredding those stockings would have been catastrophic." Bare-legged, they scuttled up the cinders on the steep railroad bed. The GIs, she remembers, cheered as she and the other young women distributed the baskets, laughing and waving at the young men who were headed for the unknown. "Later we'd be back in the office, covered with coal dust," Marion says, "but we loved it."

America in the forties was a nation of railroad tracks and trains. Railroad stations in small towns and cities were crowded with men in uniform, their wives and sweethearts giving a last embrace before the trains departed for a distant port and for the war in Europe or the Pacific. Later, those same trains returned with the young men, now greatly changed. They brought home the wounded and they bore the caskets of those who didn't make it. Marion remembers later in the war, when the trains materialized again in Attleboro, this time headed in the opposite direction. These trains had no troops cheering. The young women didn't scramble up the steep embankments with baskets of fruit and candy. The shades were drawn on the returning trains. "They didn't stop," Marion recalls. "These were the wounded coming home."

Use of this material may be made only for the purpose of promoting The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, with no editing - except for length - or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright © 1998 by Tom Brokaw. All rights reserved.

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