World War II gave us a distinguished group of people who have been called “the greatest generation”. Maybe whoever coined the phrase “Make America Great Again” was thinking of these people. Let’s look at the greatest generation and learn how they earned the name.
In 1998, journalist Tom Brokaw wrote a book that that profiled those who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression, and then went on to fight in World War II or supported the war effort from home.
To show a local example of this “greatest” generation, I’d like to tell you a story about a special Colorado Springs resident. Her name is Millie Amanda Peterson Young. She was a WASP in World War II.
WASP is not a reference to the insect. The Women Airforce Service Pilots organization was established during World War II.
These female pilots flew fighter, bomber, transport and training aircraft in defense of America’s freedom. They flew 60 million miles worth of missions in World War II.
Although these women flew military aircraft, they were considered civilians. Consequently, they paid their own way to Texas for their training.
At the end of the war they had to fly home at their own expense and were not granted military benefits or burials, even after extensive service.
Like so many other WASPs, when Millie got home from the battlefield, she threw herself into living in peacetime. She married and had five children. According to her children, their family culture encouraged learning, contributing and good citizenship.
When her husband was killed in an accident at a mine in 1969, she just kept going. As a single mother, Millie worked for the Department of Human Services and raised three children.
She did this while also raising around 50 foster children. I also heard that she was too busy to complain. We’d be well-served to see that trait re-enter public discourse.
Anyway, fewer than 250 WASPs are alive today. They were granted retroactive military status in 1977. They had to fight for decades to get it.
I look at women like Magnificent Millie, and I am convinced that they show us what “great” really is.
Maybe the slogan — like the WASP movement — is and can be about civil rights gaining a proper place in our nation.
Millie Young and the other WASPs “faced overwhelming cultural and gender bias against women in nontraditional roles and overcame multiple injustices and inequities in order to serve their country. Through their actions the WASP eventually were the catalyst for revolutionary reform in the integration of women pilots into the Armed services.”
This last quote is from Congress. In an astounding acknowledgement of the wrongdoing on the part of the government, all living WASPs — including our very own Magnificent Millie were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010. Eyewitnesses to the award ceremony say that the WASPs honored were “less concerned with past slights than with simply having a chance to celebrate their stories.”
I wish that people willing to forgive past slights like the WASPs were elected to Congress more often.
Millicent Amanda Peterson Young was a force to be reckoned with. When asked about her service, Millie says simply, “Everyone talks about our sacrifice. But for me it wasn’t about sacrifice. I was making an investment — in myself and in my country.” Millie died in January, but her example lives on.
No wonder her generation is called the greatest. If we citizens engage in our system WASP style, we will serve others, break down barriers, refuse stereotypes and implement more fairness while changing the policies of the U.S. government for the better.
That is my kind of Make America Great movement.
The greatest generation, represented by citizens of every race, was marked indelibly by their sense of personal responsibility, work ethic, prudent saving and faithful commitment.
We need to pay attention to their example.
Let’s work as individuals and together to bring what they have modeled for us back into the political arena today.
Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Stovall is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.