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Vet Discusses the WWII Generation

Vet Discusses the WWII Generation


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The Rise of Swing and Big Band

Big Band grew out of the jazz music of the 1920s and consisted of a mix of improvised and written sets. The standard arrangement for a big band was a 17-piece orchestra — typically, 5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones and a 4-piece rhythm section.

By the early 30s, Swing became its own style played by bands that were led by artists such as Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford and Cab Calloway. Swing is distinguished primarily by a strong rhythm section, a medium to fast tempo and the unique "swing" style — a combination of elongated and shortened beats produced by the fixed attacks and accents of the musicians.

By 1935, roughly two-thirds of American households owned a radio. Thus, swing music quickly grew in popularity outside of the nightclubs. Many bands produced records, and names such as Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw became household staples.

But Swing didn't stop with the music — swing dancing grew alongside it. Dance halls and clubs were filled with "jitterbugs" performing the Lindy Hop, Balboa and Shag.

Glenn Miller's "In the Mood," recorded in 1940, was a popular tune that stormed the air waves and permeated clubs and dance halls.


Oral History Excerpts

1940s

Jim McDonough, Executive Director of the Headstrong Project, interviews World War II veteran Nicholas Troianiello on his experience at the Battle of Iwo Jima.

1950s

Veteran Stanley Goldstein was inspired to serve in the 1950s after his older brothers enlisted in WWII.

"In those days, people with a person in the service had a star in the window. And we had two stars. It was considered a patriotic duty and something to look up to."

1960s

During the Vietnam War, Richard Lee Chan's base was bombed so regularly it became known as "Rocket Alley".

1970s

Veteran James C Day Jr. discusses being a Black officer in the aftermath of the civil rights movement.

"Being a Black officer, I was more readily accepted in Germany by the German soldiers than by my own."

1980s and 1990s

When he arrived at basic training in the late 1980s, Wilem Wong discovered that he was one of the only Asian Americans in his company.

"Since my name was Wong if I did anything incorrect - 'Oh, what's wrong, Wong.'"


Tribute to the "Greatest Generation"

The veterans of World War II "gave something of themselves to protect each and every one of us, to do what needed to be done -- the dirty work of war," said the Army's top enlisted Soldier.

"And it is dirty work," he continued. "It's tough, it's demanding. You've got to reach inside of yourself and find that place where you're going to go beyond what you believe is possible as a Soldier and as a human being."

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III was speaking at the Victory in Europe Day event at the World War II Memorial, May 8, in Washington, D.C. He also represented the Army during a joint wreath-laying ceremony, and as well as a special wreath to honor the survivors and victims of the Holocaust.

Chandler drew comparisons and contrasts between World War II-era veterans and those serving today.

At the start of World War II, thousands of young people chose to go to the recruiting stations to answer the nation's call, he said. After 9/11, many similarly volunteered.

When World War II Soldiers demobilized, "they went back to civilian life and did great things for our nation, which we see today," Chandler said. Likewise as the Army draws down, "I hope you'll welcome our young men and women back into our communities, because they've got a lot to offer as well."

As Soldiers transition to civilian life, they will receive transition assistance and Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits which are similar to what veterans received following World War II, Chandler said, thanking World War II veterans for showing the way ahead in honoring service.

When Chandler's wife, Jeanne, visited World War II-era spouses, they were amazed at the contrast between serving during World War II and today, he said. During World War II, Soldiers went off to war and then returned to their homes and families when it was over. Today, however, Soldiers "rotate in and out of theater on an almost annual basis."

Chandler described a staff sergeant he met recently who's been in the Army 12 years -- six of which he spent deployed. The staff sergeant is currently in Afghanistan.

Besides being far from home, wartime service has other negative effects besides the possibility of being killed or wounded, he said.

Unfortunately, veterans of World War II and Korea didn't receive help for their post-traumatic stress disorder, he said. "It wasn't talked about then."

Jeanne's uncle, who fought in the Pacific theater, is "even today affected by the combat, the casualties and the life or death situations he was put in," Chandler said.

Today, the Army and the other services are investing a lot of research into studying and treating post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, he said. "I think it's a great thing."

He encouraged veterans of every war who are suffering from PTSD to seek help.

WORLD WAR II STILL RELEVANT

Chandler said Soldiers today are still learning from veterans of "the greatest generation."

World War II is not forgotten by today's Soldiers, as it still has relevance, he said.

Throughout the Army, Soldiers in small groups and classrooms pour over the battles and tactics of World War II to learn what worked and what didn't work, he said. "So we don't make the same mistakes."

Another takeaway from World War II is the importance of the National Guard and Reserve. During World War II, Chandler said, the Reserve Components "performed superbly" after they were mobilized. Today's Reserve Components, after 12 years of war, have done just as well, he said. The active and Reserve Components working together make a formidable team.

Chandler said Soldiers today are able to learn from those who came before them.

"One of the most valuable lessons we can learn from the World War II veterans and other members of greatest generation, is sacrifice," he said, adding that today's Soldiers have sacrificed much.

"We also need to honor those volunteers who've chosen to go into harm's way, those young men and women 18 and 19 years of age who said, 'if not me, who?' and 'this we'll defend.' They are today's amazing individuals and they are the next greatest generation for our nation to honor as we do here today," Chandler said.

The sergeant major said that the day will eventually come when there won't be any more World War II veterans alive to honor, so Americans must always remember their sacrifices and the "many blessings we have today because of what they've done."

"One day this war in Afghanistan will also end," he continued. "And I challenge each of us to think: will we remember those veterans of today's conflict, as we honored those veterans who fought in Europe and the Pacific theaters? Will there be the same amount of energy and courage to say 'thank you' for so few who have given so much?"

Adding to Chandler's remark was another speaker at the event, retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude "Mick" Kicklighter, chairman, Friends of the National World War II Memorial.

"It's been said that any nation that forgets its veterans ceases to be a great nation," Kicklighter said. "This memorial says in a very special way that the American people and this nation will never forget our veterans, their families and especially those veterans who gave all their tomorrows. And when you're 18 or 19, all your tomorrows is a very high price to pay so that we can live in this strong, free and beautiful America."


‘Most memorable times’ – Local veteran discusses World War II service in Women’s Army Corps

While World War II continued to unfold during the early 1940s, a young woman from the state of California believed there might be some means through which she could support the war effort, giving something back to a nation desperately in need of volunteers.

In the spring of 1945, Emma Verslues walked into her local Navy recruiting station with hopes of enlisting, but instead received the admonishment, “You’re too young and heavy.”

The aspiring recruit was not discouraged and took the advice of the Navy recruiter, visiting the Army recruiting office where she found the opportunity for which she was searching—enlistment in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).

The predessor to the WAC—the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC)—possessed no military status and was intended “for the purpose of making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of the nation,” read Executive Order 9163, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in May 1942.

But on July 3, 1943, the president signed into law the WAC bill, which then granted military status to the women in the organization.

“A few days after I enlisted, they put a group of us on a bus and sent us to Fort Des Moines, Iowa,” said Verslues, 90, Jefferson City. (Ft. Des Moines was selected as the first training site for the newly established corps.)

The book “United States Army in World War II Special Studies: The Women’s Army Corps,” explains that the WAC basic training lasted approximately four weeks and “followed quite closely the first four weeks of the men’s basic course,” after which, the new enlistees would be transferred to an assignment in the field or attend advanced training.

Finishing her basic training in early summer 1945, during which, Verslues joked, the physical activity “took the weight off of me,” she remained at Fort Des Moines to attend two advanced trainings—first, clerk training that introduced her to the fundamentals of typing and filekeeping, and then moving on to basic medical training.

“The medical classes taught us how to do things like take a temperature and gives shots,” Verslues said. “We would practice giving shots using a lemon and I remember saying to myself, ‘I hope I never have to do this on a real person,’”

By the end of summer, Verslues recalls that she and her fellow WACs eagerly awaited the receipt of orders for their first duty assignments.

“I made a lot of good friends while I was there, but we were all separated when our orders came,” she said. “I was sent to Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) in Washington, D.C.”

The young WAC spent a short time at Walter Reed, and later transferred to Ft. Meyer, Va., working as an assistant to the hospital’s nurses and helped bathe, feed, and occasionally write letters for servicemembers receiving treatment, many of whom were blinded or missing limbs because of their service in overseas combat zones.

“I really enjoyed taking care of people even though it could be a real tear-jerker at times,” she said. “But helping those boys that were hurt get better … there was just nothing better than that.”

While living in Virginia, Verslues was married and gave birth to her first son, which inspired her to leave the WACs in January 1947 so that she could focus on her growing family. Her husband, who was serving in the Army, was discharged in the late 1940s and the couple moved to Columbia, Mo.

Years later, after giving birth to her second son, Verslues attended nursing school at Boone County Hospital, earning her “cap, pin and uniform” in the early 1950s. However, she later moved to Jefferson City, Mo., after she and her husband separated, and began working for Von Hoffman Press, from where she retired in the mid-1980s.

For the last several years, the Army veteran has embraced her hard-earned retirement and affirms, while pointing to the American flag proudly displayed on her front porch, that her country and the miltary are two inspirations for which her devotion has never wavered.

“I love this country because it has done so much for me I can go to sleep at night without worrying about where my next piece of bread is coming from.”

With a tear, she added, “And if I were able to turn back the hands of time, I would go back in the service because not only did I make some great friends, those were some of the most memorable times of my life.”

Jeremy P. Ämick is a military historian and author of “Cole County, Missouri at War: 1861-1975.”


Dream job alert: Brewery hiring a chief hiking officer

In the spring of 1955, Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, 67, left her house in Gallia County, Ohio, and told her family she “was going for a walk.”

The mother of 11 and grandmother of 23 then flew to Georgia and proceeded to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, across 14 states, six national parks, and eight national forests over the course of five months, entirely on her own. She survived hurricanes dumping torrential rains, ate wild huckleberries when she ran out of food, and slept under leaves to keep from freezing.

When she finally arrived at Mount Katahdin in Maine in late September, she sang “America the Beautiful” to commemorate her accomplishment.

When a Sports Illustrated writer asked why she attempted the huge solo hike, Gatewood simply replied: “Because I wanted to.”

Even though the Appalachian Trail had been completed in 1937, only five people had hiked all 2,190 miles in a single journey at the time, and every one of them had been young and male. Earl Shaffer, a rugged and romantic World War II vet, was the first to traverse the “AT” in 1948 and became a hiking legend, epitomizing those who dared to tread its treacherous, winding path.

Not only was Gatewood not an experienced hiker — she wore an old pair of Keds tennis shoes and packed just a shower curtain for shelter — she was also 30 years older than Shaffer. Though she was celebrated for her feat, she was scorned, too. Shaffer in particular was not pleased, preferring to think of the Appalachian Trail as “a place where backpacking skill and know-how provided entree to a separate, higher realm of nature,” writes Philip D’Anieri in his new book, “The Appalachian Trail: A Biography” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), out now.

In 1955, Emma Gatewood became the first woman to hike the “AT” solo — walking in an old pair of Keds. Getty Images (2)

Approximately 3 million visitors hike a portion of the trail each year, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, but just 21,553 people (as of this writing) have completed its entire length since 1936. Now that the trail officially reopened to long-distance hikers in mid-May after a year-long pause due to COVID-19, scores of adventurers are now following in Shaffer’s and Gatewood’s footsteps, aiming to complete the AT in full.

Some, like Shaffer, are likely attracted to “the prospect of a transformative, immersive experience,” writes D’Anieri.

And others will do it, as Gatewood once told another journalist, “Just for the heck of it.”

WWII veteran Earl Shaffer was the first to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in 1948. Earl Shaffer Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

‘Thru-hiking,” the term for those who walking every mile of the trail in one journey, has resulted in a subculture with its own customs and traditions, from confessing their sins to “the Priest,” a nearly 4,000-foot mountain in Virginia, to the Half-Gallon Challenge, where thru-hikers eat an entire tub of ice cream at the Pine Grove Furnace General Store, at the official halfway point of the trail. Devoted thru-hikers don’t even use their real names, instead choosing trail names like “Red Fox,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “Banana Split,” “Slumber Cat” and “Chili Willy.”

Of the thousands of hikers who attempt a thru-hike every year, only one in four actually make it all the way to the end. Dangers like bears, lightning storms, and diseases like giardia and Lyme’s can frighten off even the most committed hikers. Gatewood fought off copperheads and rattlesnakes with her walking stick.

Of the thousands of hikers who attempt a thru-hike every year, only one in four actually make it all the way to the end.

And there are steep climbs. The tallest peak in the Appalachians, North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell, with an elevation of 6,684 feet, was named for a scientist who died in 1857 “when he fell into a waterfall on the mountain during an expedition to measure its elevation,” writes D’Anieri.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy doesn’t keep a record of deaths or injuries, but officials have ballparked it at no more than two or three fatalities per year, mostly from hypothermia or lightning.

There’s also the occasional murder. The most recent homicide happened in May of 2019, when a deranged man who went by the trail nickname “Sovereign” killed a fellow hiker with a machete in southwest Virginia. (He was recently found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a psychiatric hospital.)

Overall, however, the AT is a safer destination than just about anywhere else in the country. There’s been just one murder on the trail every four years since 1974. The chance of getting killed there is 1,000 times less than in America as a whole.

Among the first to help plot the route for the Appalachian Trail was Horace Kephart, a librarian and East Coast scholar during the late 19th century who felt that a rugged outdoor experience was the only cure for the banality of the workaday world. He was also the father of six children under the age of 10, and “showed steadily less interest in family life,” writes D’Anieri.

A raging alcoholic known to shoot at imagined enemies during hunting trips, Kephart traveled to the mountains of western North Carolina during 1905 and wrote meticulous notes about what would eventually become the Appalachian Trail, describing not just its natural beauty, but how visitors should prepare.

“Drawers must fit snugly in the crotch, and be not too thick, or they will chafe the wearer,” he wrote. “Safety-pins can be used to hold up the socks (garters impede circulation).”

The blueprint for the hiking path came from Benton MacKaye, a planner, forester and social reformer who first proposed the trail in a 1921 article for the Journal of the American Institute of Architects.

He pitched it as “a new approach to the problem of living.” The idea for the Appalachian Trail — a term he allegedly coined while sitting in a tree somewhere on Vermont’s Stratton Mountain — was that it would be a place for East Coast urbanites to commune with nature, a sanctuary for them “to walk, to see, and to see what you see.”

But the trail didn’t actually become a practical idea until Myron Avery, a maritime lawyer and avid Washington, DC, hiker, started organizing volunteers to build it during the early 1930s.

Horace Kephart (center) first helped plot the route for the Appalachian Trail, while Benton MacKaye (left) and Myron Avery (right) made the AT what it is today. Appalachian Trail Conservancy

“He insisted that every section be well marked and precisely documented,” D’Anieri writes. “In his mind, to know the mountains was to catalog them.”

The Appalachian Trail isn’t the longest in the world it isn’t even the longest in North America, paling in comparison to the 14,996-mile Trans Canada Trail — but it is a favorite among newbies. Only 3.2 percent of AT hikers have previous month-long backpacking trip experience, compared to about half on most other famous trails.

In 1948, WWII vet Earl Shaffer — known as “The Crazy One” — was the first hiker to really put the AT on the map, saying he wanted to “walk the war out of my system.” Scaling its full length in 124 days, averaging 17 miles per day, he proved it was possible to traverse the AT in a single trip. His story became the stuff of lore, “the young loner, seeking his own redemption, chart[ing] a course and set[ting] a standard for others to follow,” writes D’Anieri.

Gatewood decided to hike the trail after reading about Shaffer in an issue of National Geographic. She had many reasons to make the journey — escaping her abusive ex-husband, for one — but it was mostly because it offered her “the freedom to do as she pleased,” writes D’Anieri.

Though mostly considered a curiosity when she first finished the hike, Gatewood became an Appalachian Trail legend toward the end of her life, with several books, plays, and documentaries written or produced about her.

She also paved the way for women. While less than 15 percent of thru-hikers were female during most of the last century, by 2018 nearly a third were women.

After Gatewood, the number of people attempting to thru-hike the AT steadily increased. By the mid-󈨞s, exactly 3,346 people had walked all 2,000-plus miles. But in 1998, after travel writer Bill Bryson published his bestselling book “A Walk in the Woods,” which recounted the middle-aged author’s often hilarious attempts to hike the AT with a childhood buddy, others flocked to the trail to do the same.

Immediately after the book’s release, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy reported a 45 percent increase in thru-hikers. By 2000, there were more hike completions in a single year than in the trail’s first 40 years combined.

Bill Bryson upset trail die-hards when his “A Walk in the Woods” led to a huge increase in AT “thru-hikers.” Getty Images

For many within the AT community, the book “was a massive shock to the system, the uninvited guest who turns the music up to eleven and invites all his friends over,” writes D’Anieri.

Many devotees wrote angry letters to the Appalachian Trailway News, the ATC’s newsletter, complaining of Bryson’s “apparent disinterest in the Trail’s larger ideals,” turning it into “slickly-produced fodder for the pop culture.”

But there was no denying the Appalachian Trail had become a democratic triumph — proof that the National Trails System Act, a 1968 law that called for nature trails to be accessible to all ages and abilities, had succeeded.

For example, one of the trail’s most photographed and iconic locations, McAfee Knob, a rock protrusion resembling a diving board in southwestern Virginia, is just a 4-mile walk from a large parking lot off the state highway. It can be strenuous but doesn’t require any special hiking skill to get there.

Shannon (left) represents the new generation of hikers, chronicling her journey on Tik Tok while Sunny Eberhart wants to become the oldest person to finish the trail at 83-years-old. @potentialroadkill/Instagram Lilly Knoepp/BPR News

And the list of AT thru-hikers has only broadened in recent decades. The oldest completed the trail in 2004 at the age of 81, while the youngest was a 6-year-old girl named Sabina Malone, who walked the entire footpath with her parents and three sisters in 2019, as a tribute to her brother who died from a brain injury.

Bill Irwin became the first blind person to hike the trail in 1990, and he estimates that he fell at least 5,000 times before making it to the end. In 1978, Donna Satterlie discovered that she was seven and a half months pregnant while hiking the entire trail, and she and her husband decided to keep hiking anyway. When their baby girl was born (back in civilization), they named her Georgia Maine.

Even now, the trail continues to attract a diverse crowd. Shannon, 25, an electrical energy systems engineer from Minnesota known as “Potential Roadkill,” is currently documenting her first AT thru-hike for 19,400 followers on TikTok. (As of this writing, she’s about halfway through.)

Meanwhile, an 83-year-old retired optometrist from Alabama named Sunny Eberhart, who prefers to go by his trail name “Nimblewill Nomad,” is currently attempting to break the record for the oldest person to hike the entire journey. His goal is to reach Mount Katahdin in Maine by the second week of September. “This is my last last last hike,” he told North Carolina Public Radio last month.

And that, D’Anieri says, is the real magic of the Appalachian Trail.

It’s a trail that an old lady just looking for an escape like Greenwood and a young barrel-chested hero like Shaffer can both claim as their own. It belongs to no one and everyone, the truest definition of democracy in action, free to all who want to participate.

“We live in an era seemingly bereft of places where folks from different walks of life can experience their shared humanity,” D’Anieri writes. “If the AT provides a way for us to meet as equals before a nature that recognizes none of our social markers, I would argue that is a good thing.”


Minnesota veteran's death a reminder that number of our WWII vets are dwindling

MAZEPPA, Minn. — Charles Weick of Mazeppa was a 19-year-old farm boy when he joined the Army near the end of World War II.

He became an MP and stood guard at the Japanese War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo, where Hideki Tojo, Japan's wartime prime minister, was tried, sentenced to death and hanged.

Tojo, an advocate for pre-emptively striking at the U.S., presided over the massacre and starvation of civilians and prisoners of war. Standing guard at the trials, Weick was a witness to history — and heard much of the evidence and testimony.

Weick didn't dwell on his wartime service much after he got out of the service, which included two stints, said his younger brother, Mike Weick of Eden Prairie, Minn. One memorable exception was decades later when Mike and Charles were at the VA Clinic in Minneapolis, where Charles was being treated for cancer.

While getting a bite to eat in the clinic cafeteria, Charles and a Vietnam veteran struck up a conversation. They began sharing stories about their service. At one point, Mike, who was sitting nearby, interjected that his brother had stood guard over the Japanese prime minister.

"I'm glad they hung that son-of-a-bitch," Charles said.

It was the only time Mike heard his brother swear.

Charles Weick died at age 95 on May 21, just 10 days before Memorial Day, a day dedicated to honoring U.S. veterans who sacrificed their lives.

Weick's death is a reminder of how quickly the World War II generation is dwindling. It is a fraction of what it once was. Most are in their mid-90s or older. The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 300,000 of the 16 million Americans who served are alive — less than 2%.

"I would speculate that within a decade, we could see, like we did with the First World War veterans, that there are no longer any World War II veterans around," said Nathan Pike, Olmsted County veterans service officer.

There are 265 World War II vets living within 160,000-population Olmsted County, Pike said. The number is more likely smaller. The number is based on "active" addresses of WWII vets the county has in its system. But if a veteran dies and the death is not reported to the county, it is not reflected in the tally.

Mike Weick is convinced that his brother's service and sacrifices heightened his appreciation for his country and the life he led afterward.

Charles got an early discharge from the military on hardship grounds after his dad suffered an injury and returned home to help his parents with their farm in Beardsley, Minn. (The family moved to Stewartville in 1952). He returned to the military several years later to serve in the Korean conflict. He was honorably discharged in 1954.

Although 20 years older than Mike, Charles was an affectionate older brother, while living with his parents and helping with a farm west of Stewartville. That was largely because Charles stayed single in the first half of his life. He didn't get married until he was 50, and the marriage lasted 44 years until the death of his wife, Evelyn, 2019.

Charles was a dutiful son, brother and eventually step-dad. Charles taught Mike how to trap gophers, a skill that allowed Mike to earn enough money to buy a bike. Later, Charles had a house built for his parents in Stewartville. Although he had an eighth-grade education, he was good with his hands and "incredibly smart," Mike said, and worked as a Sears repairman for 35 years, traveling a five-county area and fixing things.

"He could do anything he put his mind to," Mike said.

"I couldn't have had a better brother," said Mike Weick. "I'm so proud of him and what he's done in his life."


'Would I do it again?': Jackson WWII vet who served at D-Day, Iwo Jima, turns 100

Frank and Lola Korker reached their 71st-anniversary last week. Their gift was another lunch together.

JACKSON - On June 8, 1944, Frank Korker volunteered for what he thought was a fairly routine assignment on the USS Bayfield, an attack transport that two days earlier had delivered hundreds of American troops to Utah Beach for the invasion of Normandy.

This was D-Day plus 2, and the ship’s desalination unit — which turns seawater into freshwater for use on board — had a problem. The intake valve stopped working. Korker volunteered to go into the water off Normandy Beach and take a look.

“When we got down there, there was a body sucked into that thing,” Korker recalled.

It was an American soldier who had died on D-Day. Korker and a shipmate had to pull his body parts out.

“There were a lot of bodies floating in the water,” Korker said of D-Day and its aftermath.

Lola and Frank Korker on their wedding day -- Aug. 6, 1945. (Photo: Brian Johnston, staff photographer)

Box of WWII letters holds amazing story: Lacey woman learned POW fates through Nazi radio

The longtime Jackson resident turns 100 on Saturday. For decades, like many World War II veterans, he never spoke of the war with his family, which now includes two sons, eight grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. In recent years, however, he’s filled in some details as the dwindling members of the Greatest Generation have embraced the importance of leaving an oral history.

Korker’s service was somewhat unique. Aboard the Bayfield he helped deliver troops to Normandy and the subsequent invasion of southern France, then sailed to the Pacific and did the same at Okinawa and Iwo Jima. A machinist second class who worked — and slept — on the aft deck, he witnessed some of the war’s bloodiest battles and suffered permanent hearing loss in both ears from the blasts of the Bayfield’s 5-inch guns.

“Would I do it again?” he said. “Yes, I would do it for my country.”

Born and raised in Hudson County’s Union Hill (now Union City), Korker enlisted in the Coast Guard at age 21 after he couldn’t get into the Army Air Forces. During the war he exchanged hundreds of letters with his hometown sweetheart and future wife Lola. He slipped in secret messages that got past the military censors.

In 2016, Frank Korker with his wife Lola. (Photo: Brian Johnston/Staff photographer)

“We had a system, a code, so she would know where (in the world) I was,” Frank said. “I don’t remember the code now.”

Lola, who died in 2017 after 72 years of marriage, kept the letters and bound them between wooden bookends. The collection, which Frank still possesses, is thick as a Bible.

One letter from Frank begins, “I haven’t the faintest idea why I should be happy unless it is the fact that I am writing to you.”

On D-Day, he helped lower the landing craft filled with soldiers tasked with invading Utah Beach. Later, he set foot in France and remembers being approached by liberated locals asking him for cigarettes (he didn’t smoke) and offering gratitude.

“They were very appreciative,” he said. “Walking in the streets, the buildings were leveled all around.”

Frank Korker holds a photo of himself as a young member of the Coast Guard (Photo: Jerry Carino)

On Aug. 6, 1945, he and Lola were married while he was on three days’ leave. That same day, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Although he returned to the Bayfield, which was preparing for a possible invasion of Japan, Frank was finished serving in war. He returned to Union City, where he was greeted with open arms by the mayor.


Overview of the Generations - Generation Y, Generation X, Boomers and Veterans (Part 4)

Before generational differences can be adequately addressed it is important to have a high-level understanding of the four generations that share our workplace Generation Y, Generation X, Boomers and Veterans.

“Armed with an improved knowledge of the motivators and disincentives that drive its employees, an organization is more likely to develop the recruitment and retention strategies that others only dream about.” The same can be said about engagement strategies.

Generation Y, Generation X, Boomers and Veterans

Veterans (or Traditionalists or Matures)

The Veterans (ie, people born approximately between 1922 and 1943) were children of the Great Depression and World War II. They lived through the Korean War and are recognized for their strong traditional views of religion, family, and country. Their core values include respect for authority, loyalty, hard work, and dedication. They make up about 10 percent of the U.S. workforce: They grew up in tough economic times during the Great Depression and World War II. Veterans tend to value hard work. They are dedicated, and not just to doing a good job or making themselves look good, but also to helping the organization succeed and getting customers what they need. They are great team players, carry their weight and don’t let others down.

Baby Boomers

The Baby Boomers (ie, people born between 1943 and 1960) did not experience the same difficulties as their parents. They grew up during a time of great economic growth and prosperity. Their lives were influenced by the civil rights movement, women's liberation, the space program, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War. They place a high value on youth, health, personal gratification, and material wealth. Baby Boomers are optimistic and believe their generation changed the world. They make up almost half the U.S. workforce (46 percent): They grew up during an era of economic prosperity and experienced the tumult of the 1960s at an impressionable age. They are driven, love challenge and build stellar careers. Because they have had to compete with each other at every step of their careers, they can be highly competitive.

Generation X

Generation Xers (ie, people born between 1960 and 1980) sometimes are referred to as the misunderstood generation. They are the product of self-centered, work-driven Baby Boomer parents. Watergate, the advent of MTV, single-parent homes, and latchkey experiences played influential roles in their development. They were the first generation to embrace the personal computer and the Internet. They welcome diversity, are motivated by money, believe in balance in their lives, are self-reliant, and value free time and having fun. Gen X makes up 29 percent of the workforce: Gen Xers witnessed their parents’ experiences with corporate downsizing and restructuring in the 1970s and ‘80s. Raised in an era of two-earner households, many of them got a child’s-eye view of work-centric parenting. They value flexibility, work/life balance and autonomy on the job and appreciate a fun, informal work environment. They are constantly assessing how their careers are progressing and place a premium on learning opportunities. They are technologically savvy, eager to learn new skills and comfortable with change at work.

Generation Y (or Millennials, Nexters, Generation Next)

Generation Y -- are those people born between 1980 and 2000. (4) They have no recollection of the Reagan era, do not remember the Cold War, and have known only one Germany. Their world has always had AIDS, answering machines, microwave ovens, and videocassette recorders. This generation includes more than 81 million people, approximately 30% b of the current population. Generation Y makes up just 15 percent of the U.S. workforce. However, over the next two decades that percentage will grow to approach that of the baby boomers in their prime.

Gen Y tends to be well organized, confident, and resilient and achievement oriented. They are excellent team players, like collaboration and use sophisticated technology with ease. They want to work in an environment where differences are respected and valued, where people are judged by their contributions and where talent matters.

“Their defenders say they are motivated, versatile workers who are just what companies need in these difficult times. To others, however, the members of “Generation Y”…are spoiled, narcissistic layabouts who cannot spell and waste too much time on instant messaging and Facebook. Ah, reply the Net Geners, but all that messing around online proves that we are computer-literate multi-taskers who are adept users of online collaborative tools, and natural team players. And, while you are on the subject of me, I need a month’s sabbatical to recalibrate my personal goals", according to an article by The Economist.

Research has shown that 401ks, salaries and other forms of monetary compensation are less important to Generation Y retention than fruitful collaboration with peers, recognition of work, opportunities for growth and the idea of “being a part of something”. These young employees are less averse to change and will tirelessly seek environments that promote these activities, leaving those that don’t.

Stay tuned for Part 5, which will delve deeper into cross-generational engagement.


Their war ended 70 years ago. Their trauma didn’t.


Crewmen aboard the USS Yorktown battle fire after the carrier was hit by Japanese bombs, during the Battle of Midway, seen in this June 4, 1942, file photo. (Anonymous/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Tim Madigan, a freelance writer living in Texas, is the author of the novel “Every Common Sight.”

I sat in the suburban Dallas living room of Earl Crumby as the old soldier quietly wept. His wife had died a few years before, but Crumby said his tears that day weren’t for her. “As dearly as I loved that woman, her death didn’t affect me near as much as it does to sit down here and talk to you about seeing those young boys butchered during the war,” said the white-haired World War II veteran, who was 71 on that day in 1997. “It was nothing but arms and legs, heads and guts.”

“You’d think you could forget something like that,” said Crumby, whose own war ended with a shrapnel wound in the Battle of the Bulge. “But you can’t.”

There were also guys named Otis Mackey and George Swinney, and a half-dozen other vets who inspired my novel of the Greatest Generation that was published this spring. Each had survived Omaha Beach, the Ardennes Forest or the Pacific Islands, only to have the psychic residue of combat shatter their golden years.

They talked of night terrors, heavy drinking, survivor’s guilt, depression, exaggerated startle responses, profound and lingering sadness. The symptoms were familiar to the world by then, but post-traumatic stress disorder, the diagnosis that came into being in 1980, was widely assumed to be unique to veterans of Vietnam. “Bad war, bad outcome, bad aftereffects,” is the way historian Thomas Childers put it.

Those of age in the late 1940s would have known differently. Though it was referred to by other names (shell shock, combat fatigue, neuropsychiatric disorders) the emotional toll of World War II was hard to miss in the immediate postwar years military psychiatric hospitals across the nation were full of afflicted soldiers, and the press was full of woeful tales. But with the passage of time and the prevailing male ethos — the strong, silent type — World War II was soon overshadowed by the Cold War and eventually Vietnam. By the 1990s, amid the mythology of the Greatest Generation, the psychological costs of the last “good war” had been forgotten.

Yet those costs, as hard as the nation tried to ignore them, did not go away. The soldiers I interviewed nearly two decades ago, and tens of thousands of others like them, were painful and often poignant proof of that. Though the reverential books of Tom Brokaw and Stephen Ambrose glossed over it, the hidden anguish of the Greatest Generation has always been there. “Our conceptualization of the Greatest Generation is that [the soldiers] came home and got to work,” said Paula Schnurr, executive director of the National Center for PTSD, who has worked with World War II veterans since the 1990s. “Many of them looked okay because they went to work, got married, they raised families — but it doesn’t mean they didn’t have PTSD.”

Of all the men and women who served in the armed forces during World War II, less than 6 percent, about 850,000, are still alive, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. World War II vets die at the rate of 492 a day. Before it’s too late, we ought to reach beyond the nostalgia and myth and embrace the truth of war and the Greatest Generation. Bad war, good war — for those who fight, it’s all the same — means death, disfigurement and horrors no human heart is equipped to bear.

‘When we got out, you couldn’t talk about things like that,” Otis Mackey told me in his East Texas living room. “You held it all in. I didn’t want to take it to my family. If you’d say anything, people wouldn’t believe half of what you say, anyway.”

He was rocking furiously, faster and faster, speaking of his first day in combat, when his best friend was shot through the neck and killed, and the day he watched fellow soldiers dismembered by landmines. “The leg with the combat boot and all . . . I had to duck,” he told me. “I seen it coming at me. I just ducked, and McGhee’s leg went flying right by my head. That has been one of my guilty points, because I was right there ready to step on that mine. I never could figure out why it was him and not me.”

Mackey drank heavily when he returned to Texas and worked three jobs as a machinist so he was too tired to remember his dreams at night. “I don’t know why my wife even stayed with me,” he said.

By the time we talked, Mackey had been in group therapy for several months with Earl Crumby and a few other World War II vets at the Dallas VA hospital. By that time in the 1990s, thousands of old soldiers had been finding their way to PTSD treatment.

“Most of the World War II men that I worked with came to me in their 70s or 80s, after retirement or the death of a spouse,” said Joan Cook, a professor of psychiatry at Yale and a PTSD researcher for Veterans Affairs. “Their symptoms seemed to be increasing, and those events seemed to act as a floodgate.”

For so many veterans, that was when they finally learned they were not crazy or weak. “Pretty much to a person, for them, learning about PTSD and understanding that people were researching it in World War II veterans was a real relief,” Schnurr said. “Many people felt isolated and crazy, and they thought it was just them. And they didn’t talk about it.”

Mackey told me that he generally felt better after VA therapy sessions with other haunted World War II vets. But there were still days when “I get that empty feeling, just deep down, and I don’t care whether I live or die.”

Seated on a sofa a few feet away, Mackey’s wife, Helen, began to cry. “He has not told me this,” she said, “that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies.”

Similar dramas have played out across the centuries, of course, a part of the literature of war going back to the Iliad. The psychic toll of war has been variously described as nostalgia, soldier’s heart, shell shock, war neuroses or simply exhaustion, and there have always been skeptics. Among them was Gen. George Patton, who in 1943 famously slapped two soldiers being treated for combat-related neuroses, calling one a “yellow bastard.” Patton was sternly reprimanded by Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.

The reality was that of the 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces during World War II, fewer than half saw combat. Of those who did, more than 1 million were discharged for combat-related neuroses, according to military statistics. In the summer of 1945, Newsweek reported that “10,000 returning veterans per month . . . develop some kind of psychoneurotic disorder. Last year there were more than 300,000 of them — and with fewer than 3,000 American psychiatrists and only 30 VA neuropsychiatric hospitals to attend to their painful needs.”

One of those hospitals was the subject of John Huston’s 1946 documentary, “Let There Be Light,” which said that “20% of all battle casualties in the American Army during World War II were of a neuropsychiatric nature.” The film followed the treatment, mostly with talk therapy, drugs and hypnosis, of “men who tremble, men who cannot sleep, men with pains that are no less real because they are of a mental origin.” Huston’s movie was confiscated by the Army just minutes before its premiere in 1946 and was not allowed to be shown in public until 1981. The government rationale at the time was protecting the privacy of the soldiers depicted, though Huston maintained all had signed waivers..

It’s true that millions of servicemen returned home and did exactly what Tom Brokaw described in his seminal 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation.” Through hard work and force of will, they created modern America. But in 1947, nearly half of the beds in every VA hospital in the nation were still occupied by soldiers with no visible wounds. While there were no reliable statistics on the topic, the epidemic of alcohol abuse was widely known. The country was also experiencing a divorce boom: In 1941, 293,000 American couples divorced, a rate of 2.2 per 1,000 people. That number doubled to 610,000 in 1946, 4.3 divorces per 1,000. It was the highest divorce rate in U.S. history until 1972, according to government statistics.

There was ubiquitous public discussion and concern for the complex issues facing the returning soldiers. Popular magazines such as Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal and Life were full of articles about how to find a job, use the GI bill, or deal with a vet who suffered from nightmares, sudden rages and debilitating sadness. The film “The Best Years of Our Lives,” the story of the troubled homecoming of three World War II vets, won the 1947 Academy Award for best picture.

Yet that discussion was short-lived, and cultural amnesia set in. The economy recovered, and jobs were suddenly plentiful. The Cold War began. Through the 1950s, the troubled vet routinely surfaced as a character in film noir, often as the villain. But the lingering horrors of war otherwise retreated from the public conversation, often overshadowed by communism.

Yet as they went on with their lives, many struggling soldiers would not have recognized themselves in Brokaw’s eventual rendering: “Mature beyond their years, tempered by what they had been through, disciplined by their military training and sacrifices. . . . They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.”

The Greatest Generation certainly deserved every accolade bestowed on them, Childers says, “but there is nothing to suggest how complicated those years were.”Or how difficult they continued to be. A 2010 California study showed that aging World War II veterans were four times more likely to commit suicide than those their age who had not served in the military.

Arthur “Dutch” Schultz, a hero of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, went on to become a poster boy of sorts for the Greatest Generation, the basis of a character in the 1962 war movie “The Longest Day” and prominently featured in other World War II books. But there was much more to his story, including a long battle with alcoholism and two rocky marriages.

His daughter Carol Schultz Vento described his struggles in her 2011 book, “The Hidden Legacy of World War II.” She recently told me of the time she persuaded her suicidal father to put down his gun. “For all his bravado and success, dad had returned home from the war a shattered and broken man,” Schultz Vento wrote. Dutch Schultz managed to mostly conquer the demons of war before his death in 2005, but it took him half a century and, his daughter believes, required as much courage as anything he faced on the battlefield.

She and so many others of her generation also suffered quietly, not understanding the tension in their households, because the ghosts of the war rarely revealed themselves. This year, I published a novel that featured a struggling World War II hero as the main character. I wondered about the book’s relevance today, until I started hearing from readers across the nation who described the night terrors, depression, heavy drinking and silent pain of their fathers. A story about the hidden toll of the war helped them make sense of their childhoods. But those stories of the Greatest Generation remain mostly untold.

Earl Crumby and his fellow soldiers knew too well that when it comes to the human toll, war does not discriminate. A piece of a German shell tore through his shoulder, “but the deepest wound was right here,” he said, pointing to his head. “Lord, some nights I have nightmares, and I can still hear that shell going off in my head. There are just so many of us out there. I know they’ve got to be having the same problems I have.”

“If you get to digging,” he told me, “you’ll find that soldiers of all wars, they’re bothered with it, too.”



Comments:

  1. Scirloc

    Seriously!

  2. Devyn

    Not happy !!!

  3. Mebei

    I apologize, but this does not suit me. Are there other variations?

  4. Noah

    Tell me where can I read about this?

  5. Archemorus

    Hour by hour is not easier.



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