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 one occasion a familiar young man insisted on dancing with Marion, all the while saying, "Betcha don't know who I am." Of course she did. It was Mickey Rooney.

Other memories linger in a darker corner. Once at a dance the young women were asked how many could type. Marion volunteered. "We were taken to the camp hospital where all the beds and stretchers were filled with the wounded. They were being shipped to hospitals near their homes and we rolled typewriters from bed to bed, taking information off dog tags, talking to the men, placing phone calls for them. I have never forgotten the sight of so many broken bodies. I wondered how many of them had been on those trains going off to war when we ran up the railroad banks with our baskets of fruit and candy. That evening turned into twenty-four hours, and I think I remember every moment."

Alison Ely married midway through the war and left the shipyard to follow her husband, John W. Campbell, to training camps before he shipped out for the Pacific. It was the beginning of a life of learning to fend for herself, including getting to the hospital on her own when their baby was due, with no other family around.

When Scottie's husband, Dale, was released from the hospital, they moved to Schenectady, New York, where he had a job with General Electric. Before long they decided they wanted to return to the Midwest. They moved to Carthage, Missouri, a small, quiet town and he went to work for the Smith Brothers company, the famous cough drop concern.

It was a pleasant, prosperous life. They had two children: a girl, Cynthia, and a son, Randy. Dale was promoted to vice president. The future looked bright, but at the age of forty-five, Scottie's carefully ordered world came apart. Dale contracted melanoma and died. Scottie faced a world not very friendly to single women.

She had difficulty obtaining credit after Dale died simply because she was a widow. Sears gave her a hard time. So did a pharmacy where she tried to open a charge account. She was stunned and angry. She learned not to tell businesses of her marital status. "I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. You can give up or decide to do something with your life. I had a degree in business administration but I knew I would never rise higher than secretary, so I thought, Where can a woman make the most money?"

This was 1968. Job opportunities for women had yet to catch up with the rising tide of feminism. Like many women of her generation, Scottie is strong and self-reliant but a little reluctant to be closely identified with the women's movement. She speaks for many in her age group when she says, "I'm not a radical person because I believe that has done more to turn people off." At the same time she's quick to add, "But I've always believed in equal access to jobs." Still, she was practical enough to realize that her choices were limited to what were considered to be women's jobs in a community the size of Carthage.

So Scottie went the traditional route and qualified for a teacher's certificate. Besides, it was where she could bring to life that junior high motto from so long ago, "Enter to learn, go forth to serve."

She became a civics teacher at Neosho High in Carthage. She set out to bring to the children of the sixties and seventies the values that marked her generation. Patriotism. Respect for the presidency. Love of country. She felt a special obligation to tell them about World War II, the war of their parents. It was the beginning of the social upheaval of the sixties and seventies, but in Carthage she could still get the attention of the kids by staging mock political conventions. When she taught a section on the Roaring Twenties she came to class dressed as a flapper. Now, ruefully, she doubts she could have the same success.

It was hard enough, she says, to talk to the young people during Watergate. At first she believed in President Nixon and said so. When she realized he was lying, however, she shared her change of heart with her students. "It was hard, because I was trying to teach respect for the presidency." As for President Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Scottie says, "Watergate was hard enough, but what do you tell the students today?

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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