Twelve years ago this week we lost my mom on her 89th birthday. My dad had passed seven years earlier. Along with so many others who are leaving us, my parents were members of the Greatest Generation …
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Twelve years ago this week we lost my mom on her 89th birthday. My dad had passed seven years earlier. Along with so many others who are leaving us, my parents were members of the Greatest Generation (after Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book), generally defined as people born from 1901 to 1927, shaped by the Great Depression and primary participants in World War II.
And so it was that both of my parents served in WWII, Staff Sergeant Dant Slack in Italy and in North Africa with General Patton’s forces, and Tech Sergeant Rosemary Slack in the Philippines and the Pacific. My dad left Tulane to enlist, and my mother joined after Pearl Harbor. (They met after the war.)
My dad would tell heartwarming stories, such as about the dog they had in camp. My mom’s service was marred by the death of her mother in Chicago while she was away. Each only spoke occasionally about the war.
I applaud and am in awe of these two most normal-seeming people who held me so close. I look at the black-and-white photos that have survived and I try to imagine what these two young people sacrificed for their country – and for the victims of incredible hatred, cruelty and atrocity.
Both my mother and my father were laid to rest – with thanks from a grateful nation – at Fort Logan National Cemetery. They share a headstone … my dad’s name on the front because he passed first, and my mom’s on the back. As a veteran in her own right, she could have chosen an individual site, but early on decided to lie with my dad.
On occasions such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day, volunteers plant small flags at the gravesites. However, because my mom’s name is on the back of the headstone – as spouses usually are – her service is often overlooked for this recognition, which has led me to reflect that the women of WWII do not sufficiently receive their due.
During the war, approximately 400,000 U.S. women served with the armed forces in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps, Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Navy (WAVES), Coast Guard (SPARs) and Marine Corps Women’s Reserves.
My mother was a WAC, and worked in communications. Women also drove trucks, repaired airplanes, worked as lab technicians, rigged parachutes, flew military aircraft across the country and even trained anti-aircraft artillery gunners by acting as flying targets.
Sixty-eight American servicewomen were captured as POWs in the Philippines, and as many as 543 died in war-related incidents, including 16 from enemy fire.
Servicewomen were so vital to the war effort that General (and later President) Dwight D. Eisenhower told Congress that when women’s units were first proposed, “I was violently against it.” But, he added, “Every phase of the record they compiled during the war convinced me of the error of my first reaction.” Eisenhower went on to fight for a permanent place for women in the U.S. Armed Forces.
I’ve never served, and I salute those who have served and who continue to serve. I salute those who will choose this honorable occupation. And I salute you, Mom, and you, Dad, for the sacrifices you made for the country you loved so much, and for the liberties and safety of your fellow citizens of the world.
Andrea Doray is a writer who wholeheartedly believes they were the Greatest Generation. Contact Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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