The Greatest Generation

11 Nov

This photo taken of my dad in 1945William Ricketts Navy Protrait 001.  Those who experience World War II have been called The Greatest Generation.  There are many people who will talk today about the service and sacrifice they gave to our country and give thanks for those who continue to service in our military today.  I agree whole hardheartedly with this praise of those who serve.

This morning I would also like to reflect on how the experience of World War II changes lives.  Again, there are a thousand books and a hundred TV shows that will talk on this topic, but I guess I will add my two cents.

My father joined the Navy when he was 17 years old.  He had just graduated High School and had to get signed permission to join.  My grandmother signed the form.  My grandfather had abandoned the family when my Dad was five.

The War opened up a whole new world for my dad.  Not only was every one “joining up” after the Pearl Harbor attack, but it gave my dad a way to “get out of town.”  At seventeen he was on a Liberty ship moving supplies from one part of the world to the other.  He talks of being in the South Pacific and docking in France and Wales.   No one in his family had traveled out of Virginia.  He talks about calling home and talking much of the time with the switch board operator who knew all of the news around town — it was a small town.

When he returned he had the G.I. bill to pay for a Bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech.  The day after graduation, he married my mom.  He still lives within a 100 miles of where he grew up, but his world view had changed.

I have talked with a number of lives when their WWII vet has died and the story is similar to my Dad’s.  They had grown up in rural/small town America, then join the branch of service that interested them the most, Navy, Air Force, Army, and it became a passion the rest of their life.  Men who had never flown in a plane joined the Air Force and continued to work with planes the rest of their lives.

I know we talk about the big stuff, about how the world was changed through the experience of war.  Yet, maps are not the only things that are re-drawn in a war.  My dad came home from the war and so I exist.  I am glad did not have to be in a deadly battle; at least he has never talked about an experience of people dying during the war.

Billy Ricketts and Frank Fletcher 001

Billy, bad boy, Ricketts is on the left

A number of years ago, I was with my mother’s brother when he was dying.  He had been a medic in the war.  At the point of his death, he talked with great pain about the lives he had not been able to save during the war.  He talked about a promise to one young man to contact his family and tell them how he died.  My uncle had never kept that promise and he spoke about again and again during his last days of life.  We had never had a clue about this guilt.

Life is changed everyday by the choice we make; big ones and little ones.  I know, I am convinced, that God wants to be a part of all of those choices.  I pray for choices of peace and compassion.  I am sure we can find other ways to give young people a life changing experience.   Peace


One Response to “The Greatest Generation”

  1. Phyllis Terwilliger November 11, 2014 at 2:39 pm #


    Thanks for a very insightful and personal piece. I love the line, “Maps are not the only things that are re-drawn in war.”

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