The Greatest Generation Comes Home: The Veteran in American Society

The Greatest Generation Comes Home: The Veteran in American Society

The Greatest Generation Comes Home: The Veteran in American Society

The Greatest Generation Comes Home: The Veteran in American Society


At the conclusion of World War II, Americans anxiously contemplated the return to peace. It was an uncertain time, rife with concerns about demobilization, inflation, strikes, and the return of a second Great Depression. Balanced against these challenges was the hope in a future of unparalleled opportunities for a generation raised in hard times and war. One of the remarkable untold stories of postwar America is the successful assimilation of sixteen million veterans back into civilian society after 1945. The G.I. generation returned home filled with the same sense of fear and hope and that most citizens felt at the time. Their transition from conflict to normalcy is one of the greatest chapters in American history. The Greatest Generation Comes Home combines military and social history into a comprehensive narrative of the veteran's experience after World War II. It integrates early impressions of home in 1945 with later stories of medical recovery, education, work, politics, and entertainment, as well as moving accounts of the dislocation, alienation, and discomfort many faced. This book includes the experiences of not only the millions of veterans drawn from mainstream white America but also the women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian American who served the nation. Perhaps most important, this book also examines the legacy bequeathed by these veterans to later generations who served in uniform on new battlefields around the world.


People usually think that wars are a great cleansing; that, pu
rified through sacrifice, they can start from scratch along their
ideal paths after it is all over. Because of their innate wishful
ness, people inevitably forget that every event is interrelated
and one cannot go outside of history and “start over.”

—American sailor writing home from the Pacific in 1945

Veterans have always been with us. in the beginning, as tiny settlements of colonists clung to the New England and Virginia shorelines, they were often the only thing standing between survival and death. At the start of the seventeenth century, veterans of past wars constituted a body of experience in arms, and they used that know-how to defend their communities and prosecute war against the Native Americans. They imported a body of military knowledge from Europe that accompanied their weapons and bulky armor. Although the latter would be discarded as impractical, the tradition of military service would increase in importance as America grew.

Veterans participating in local militias remained the backbone of colonial America as the frontier first clustered along the Atlantic seaboard and then began to move west. in the bloody clashes between Virginians and the Powhatan in the 1620s and during the vicious fighting that erupted between the scattered settlements in New England and an alliance of Native American tribes led by Metacomet (otherwise known to the English as King Philip) in 1675, militias constituted the single barrier to outright annihilation. As each generation fought, it passed the benefits of experience to the next generation of citizen soldiers.

Not every lesson was learned, however. Colonial America’s militias . . .

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