In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War

In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War

In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War

In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War

Synopsis

In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation traces the shared experiences of Korean War veterans from their childhoods in the Great Depression and World War II through military induction and training, the war, and efforts in more recent decades to organize and gain wider recognition of their service. a Largely overshadowed by World War II's "greatest generation" and the more vocal veterans of the Vietnam era, Korean War veterans remain relatively invisible in the narratives of both war and its aftermath. Yet, just as the beaches of Normandy and the jungles of Vietnam worked profound changes on conflict participants, the Korean Peninsula chipped away at the beliefs, physical and mental well-being, and fortitude of Americans completing wartime tours of duty there. Upon returning home, Korean War veterans struggled with home front attitudes toward the war, faced employment and family dilemmas, and wrestled with readjustment. Not unlike other wars, Korea proved a formative and defining influence on the men and women stationed in theater, on their loved ones, and in some measure on American culture. In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation not only gives voice to those Americans who served in the "forgotten war" but chronicles the larger personal and collective consequences of waging war the American wa

Excerpt

When the first episode of the television series M*A*S*H aired in the fall of 1972 I was just shy of three years old, not exactly a member of the producer’s target audience. But, despite my age and a few flirtations with The Dukes of Hazzard and Charlie’s Angels and in part because of syndication, I came to be a regular viewer and loyal fan of the 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea and its collection of unusual doctors and support personnel. I tuned in every week to watch Hawkeye and Trapper John (or, after the third season, Hawkeye and B. J. Honeycutt—the B and J standing for “anything you want”) cooking up trouble, Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger donning a dress in his futile attempt to secure a Section 8 (mentally unfit for service) discharge, and Radar O’Reilly wheeling and dealing for supplies and equipment over the Army’s archaic communication system. Decades later, I still chuckle when I think of Klinger decked out as the Statue of Liberty in honor of General MacArthur’s visit or of straight-man Frank Burns ending up asleep at an aid station near the front with a toe tag reading “emotionally exhausted and morally bankrupt.”

Certainly, moments of bitterness and solemnity crept into the script. Who could ever forget that Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake perished when the enemy shot down his helicopter over the Sea of Japan or that Hawkeye could never brew enough moonshine in his homemade still to forget the war (late in the series Hawkeye suffered a war-related emotional breakdown)? But, week after week M*A*S*H delivered to my television set and to millions of others across the country images of Korea as a war full of much more levity and entertainment than the conflict Americans had just watched play out in Vietnam. At the same time, the jaded and worldly attitudes possessed by the main characters belonged more to the generation that weathered the sixties and seventies than to the one that came of age in the years during and just after World War II. Yet, engrossed in the happenings of the 4077 , few viewers bothered to question whether or not the scenes meticulously crafted by Larry Gelbart and others and disseminated by the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) accurately reflected the experiences of the men and women who served in Korea. Strangely, in the American mind, M*A*S*H became . . .

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