Learning from World War II Veterans

Many older people who served in World War II came from small, homogeneous communities. They were then suddenly thrown together with  people all over the country. Once in the service, they experienced danger and hardship that is difficult to imagine. Although these experiences are shared by service men and women today, in the elders’ generation, millions of men experienced combat, shaping their worldviews. They were some of the most inspiring interviewees in 30 Lessons for Living.

We have come to a point in time, however, where those who participated in World War II generation will soon be gone. Take a look at this chart:

In five years, only a few hundred thousand of those who risked their lives so bravely will be left with us. For this reason, I believe we need to actively engage the WWII veterans now, asking them for the lessons they learned from their experiences.

Here’s an example from the Legacy Project. Larry, 89, describes his lessons for getting along with others, gained from his service in WW II:

When I went into the service, I was a young boy from Vermont.  A little hick town. And I lived on the right side of the tracks, okay?  My whole family was well-known throughout town, well-respected and everything.  I got into the Navy and I was just another punk.  And I learned how to get along with people.  And when I got out of the service, people would say to me, “Oh, boy am I glad I’m out of the service.” And I said, “I’ll tell you something:  I learned how to get along with people for one thing.”  That was the biggest lesson that has helped me all through life. Because you’re cramped in and everything like that.  Living aboard ship.  And you’ve got to get along with people, because you have no choice.  And these are people that you never saw before. 

I learned to accept mankind until they prove me wrong.  I don’t care who you are, what you are, how you are, you’re fine with me until you prove the opposite.  I get along with everybody, and that – I think the service had something to do with that. That’s what you need at work: to be sociable and to get along with the people you are working with.

Zach Danko, 87, also pointed to WW II as broadening his understanding of others:

I served in World War II. You traveled the world and you bumped into people that were quite different. I was in the Pacific, so I was talking to natives in New Guinea. When I was younger, I would have shied away from them. You couldn’t speak the language, number one. Everything was sort of hand movement – you try to describe what you’re trying to say. But they were the most beautiful people in the world, what they did for us. So you look back at that, and it teaches you things. It’s a big world.

So let’s make sure we learn all we can from our WW II veterans – before we lose the chance!

2 thoughts on “Learning from World War II Veterans

  1. I was 5 yrs. old in December 1941 and 10 years old when it ended. I remember the sacrifices families made so the these young men could ‘do their jobs” as they say. My mother had ration stamps. I shopped with my mother and we had less meat and sugar. Our family never complained about any of the shortages always knowing that these products and many others were to help our country and our soldiers.

  2. Was just nine when the war ended, but have been a student of that era because of the sacrafices the people made to fight for what is right. I love the generations that have come since, but they have no concept of what the great generation (both male and female here and with the allies) went through to build today’s world flawed as it is. Just imagine what we would be living with if they had not stepped up.

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