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The Forgotten Generation

American Children and World War II

Lisa L. Ossian

Publication Year: 2011


Two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt addressed the nation by radio, saying, “We are all in it—all the way. Every single man, woman, and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history.” So began a continuing theme of the World War II years: the challenges of wartime would not be borne by adults alone. Men, women, and children would all be involved in the work of war.
The struggles endured by American civilians during the Second World War are well documented, but accounts of the war years have mostly deliberated on the grown-ups’ sacrifices. In The Forgotten Generation: American Children and World War II, Lisa L. Ossian explores the war’s full implications for the lives of children. In thematic chapters, the author delves into children’s experiences of family, school, play, work, and home, uncovering the range of effects the war had on youths of various ethnicities and backgrounds.
Since the larger U.S. culture so fervently supported the war effort, adults rarely sheltered children from the realities of the war and the trials of life on the home front. Children listened for news of battles over the radio, labored in munitions factories, and saved money for war bonds. They watched enlisted men—their fathers, uncles, and brothers—leave for duty and worried about the safety of soldiers overseas. They prayed during the D-Day invasion, mourned President Roosevelt’s death, and celebrated on V-J Day . . . all at an age when such sharp events are so difficult to understand. Ossian draws from a multitude of sources, including the writings of 1940s children, to demonstrate the great extent of these young people’s participation in the wartime culture.
World War II transformed a generation of youths as no other experience of the twentieth century would, but somehow the children at home during the war—compressed between the “Greatest Generation” and the “Baby Boomers”—slipped into the margins of U.S. history. The Forgotten Generation: American Children and World War II remembers these children and their engagement in “the most tremendous undertaking” that the war effort came to be. By bringing the depth of those experiences to light, Ossian makes a compelling contribution to the literature on American childhood and the research on this remarkable period of U.S. history.

Published by: University of Missouri Press


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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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Preface: The Paradox of Children

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pp. ix-xi

Children have always presented a paradox: time and energy, devotion and discipline, joy and grief, heartache and headache, money and still more money. And the writing of the history of children also presents its...

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pp. xiii-xvi

At the entrance leading to the fountains of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., the lead-colored panels lining the path demonstrate the varied stories of American citizens during this extensive world war. Six children appear among the numerous adults in these twenty-four ...

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Introduction: A Child’s Perspective on World War II

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pp. 1-21

World War II would impact a generation of children unlike any other experience in the twentieth century. From the days before Pearl Harbor, with quiet rumors of war, to the dramatic Sunday afternoon of ...

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1. Almost Christmastime

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pp. 8-21

The first Sunday of December 1941 began slowly in Hawaii, a morning of yellow sand, green fields, and blue ocean covered with a bright, peaceful sky and gentle breezes. The hills rolled, the mountains jagged, ...

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2. Schools for War

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pp. 22-39

“I am speaking to you tonight,” Eleanor Roosevelt began her broadcast on the evening of December 7, 1941, “at a very serious moment in our history.” Mrs. Roosevelt addressed her remarks to “the young people of ...

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3. Kid Salvage

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pp. 40-55

“How many bullets will this make, mister?” the little boy inquired as he handed over his beloved toy train set. The advertisement embellished already emotional scrap drives with its sentimental copy: “Sacrifice isn’t ...

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4. Junior Commandos

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pp. 56-70

On the Saturday morning following Pearl Harbor, an Iowa housewife took her egg money to Toyland to purchase two Tom Thumb tanks. “I’ll probably step on one of these in the night and break a leg,” she told the ...

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5. Soldier Citizens

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pp. 71-88

Eleven-year-old Truelove Timms entered the Los Angeles hospital shortly before Christmas Day 1941 for a tonsillectomy. Not only did the hospital seem like an entirely new world to this little girl (a young migrant worker ...

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6. War Waifs

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pp. 89-99

“Have you ever lain awake on Christmas Eve,” asked a child of the internment camps, “with everything about you strange, quiet, and still as death?” As Christmas drew nearer, the older children at the camp ...

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7. Zoot Suits and Victory Girls

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pp. 100-115

A small group of fifteen-year-olds had been skipping school, shooting BB guns at little kids, learning how to smoke, playing a “uke” too loudly, disobeying parents, coming home after curfew (sometimes after 2 a.m.), ...

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8. Gold Stars

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pp. 116-131

“I know you can’t read this letter now,” Captain Gerald Marnell began writing to his two-year-old daughter Geraldine, “but your mother will read it to you and she will save it for you until you are old enough to ...

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Conclusion: The Forgotten Generation

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pp. 132-137

“Dad, Dad,” clamored some children trying to rouse their father at three in the morning. “Will our big brother be coming home?” “Sure, sure,” he muttered, “just go back to sleep. . . .” This anonymous family reflected the ...


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pp. 139-154


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pp. 155-165


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pp. 167-174

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272492
E-ISBN-10: 0826272495
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219190
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219195

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 26 illus
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1