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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  • First Published:
    Nov 1998, 412 pages
    May 2001, 412 pages

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On the West Coast, Alison Ely was getting an entirely different view of the war. In the shipyard, she was assigned to the administrative offices, but that was boring and tedious. This highly educated daughter of Oregon affluence asked to go to work on the assembly line and stuck with her request even though the executive in charge grumbled, "All she'll ever do is get married."

She was assigned to work on the urgent construction of huge oil tankers. Her job was keeping track of the welding process, which meant mastering a complicated set of blueprints and diagrams. Her training was cursory at best. Forced to improvise her understanding, she often took other women workers into the ladies' room, where they labored together over the schematics until they figured out the intricate requirements.

In Washington, Scottie's interest in the fighting went well beyond the messages she carried from war room to war room. Her boyfriend from the University of Kansas, Dale Lingelbach, was a second lieutenant with the Army's 9th Infantry in England. She knew he was scheduled to be part of the Normandy invasion.

Because she knew the plans for D-Day, when she was asked if she'd ever like to attend a White House press conference, she chose that day, June 6, 1944. She remembers it was in the Oval Office and President Roosevelt's little Scottish terrier, Fala, was running free through the small crowd assembled there. She also remembers FDR, then in the last year of his life, "dressed in all white, with white hair and a very ruddy complexion."

Earlier that day FDR shared with the nation his prayer for the success of D-Day. In a radio broadcast he said, "In this poignant moment I ask you to join with me in prayer; Almighty God: our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set on a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.... They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph. They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest - until the victory is won."

It was a long and heartfelt prayer and it is difficult in this day of instant communication from the battlefield to appreciate fully the absence of information about just what was happening there on the beaches of Normandy. Perhaps it was just as well, for D-Day was chaos, a bloody hell. The anxieties of those at home were high enough just listening to the somber and candid prayer of the president and the stream of news bulletins on the radio.

My mother remembers going to a hairdresser that morning and finding the young woman distraught, near collapse in tears. Her fiancé, she explained, was a paratrooper and she was sure he was taking part in the invasion. In fact, he was, and he survived. Several weeks later he sent her his parachute and told her to have a wedding dress made from it.

About the same time, Scottie was notified that her boyfriend, Dale, had been seriously wounded by German artillery as his unit pushed across Europe. When he was shipped home, they were married in September 1945, at the Richmond, Virginia, hospital where he spent two years recovering from his wounds. Scottie had loved her wartime assignment in Washington, but she wanted to be married and raise a family.

In Massachusetts, Marion Rivers and her friends spent long hours at the factory and then joined the rest of Attleboro in providing a home away from home for the troops from nearby Camp Myles Standish. They invited them to their homes for holidays or a Sunday meal; occasionally there would be an ice skating party on a local pond. "Once a week several buses filled with young women and our ever present chaperones would take us to wonderful dances on the base. Big-name bands on their way overseas to entertain the troops would play," Marion remembers.

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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