Looking for members of Alpine’s ‘Greatest generation’
March 20, 2007
History, a word with a variety of meanings and recorded or related in a variety of ways. History can mean simply knowledge of past events, or it can be part of a retort fired at someone who tries to aggravate another by bringing up some unpleasant and best forgotten event. “Hey, that’s ancient history!”
Or it can mean an unusual or significant past, “That house has a history.” Whatever the usage, it refers to the past.
In the earliest of times, humans passed on history from one generation to the next in various ways.
Sometimes by the spoken word, sometimes in song, sometimes wordlessly by dance, or sometimes by symbols on cave walls or desert rocks.
Those symbols evolved into written language, and most history today is found in books. However, some of the richest descriptions of history have been, and still are, those which are told by individuals, oral history.
In this age of ours, while most of our time is devoted to the here and now or the near future, much of our greatest resource for history, the deepest, the most valuable oral history, is going, going, nearly gone.
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That resource is the memory of those popularly called “The Greatest Generation.”
Anyone 80 years or older is part of “The Greatest Generation.” Do you know anyone of that age or older?
Those are the people who struggled through the Great Depression and survived the stronger for it. In those days, the only jobs for many men was in the Civilian Conservation Corps, living in government camps and building trails and campgrounds we enjoy today.
Some people, jobless, had to learn the skills of salesmanship one apple at a time.
Many wives took in laundry and darned socks for their boarders for money to buy sliced baloney so the kids could have some meat to go with the potatoes that they grew in their gardens.
Togetherness was when the entire family spent time on their knees pulling weeds in those gardens. Making ends meet. That was a popular phrase.
Then war fell upon them and they stood up. They are the ones who answered their country’s call and plunged into the maelstrom of war to put down Nazism and Japanese Imperialism.
More than 10 percent of the American population served in the military in that war, many experiencing horrors they have been wont to talk about. Some of them would today, but nobody is asking. Most of that generation held things together at home so there would be a home to come back to.
Factories operated round the clock turning out spectacular amounts of arms and equipment. The gardens became “Victory Gardens” and they still had to be weeded, but after attending to “The War Effort.” When the war was over, the population was reshuffled.
There were different jobs now. And the GI Bill. Hundreds of thousands became the first of their families to get a college education.
They then became the ones who designed and built the interstate highways we drive today. They are the ones who looked up to the skies above and arranged for mankind to leave the world, literally. They perfected the agricultural systems that feed ourselves and much of the world.
They converted the industrial complex of America that had been kick started during the war years to supply the war machine. Instead, they turned out new Buicks, Fords, Packards, Kaisers, Frazers, and Studebakers. And Jeeps. And bicycles with fat tires. And televisions. And new houses.
That generation is moving on, into history. Before the stories of some of those are lost, Alpine County’s museum staff, with some volunteer help, is carrying out an oral history program.
Some of our 80-plus years citizens are recalling and telling of their experiences, some tales gentled by age, some filled with humor, some seemingly incredible if one didn’t know the truth of them from others of their age, that that’s the way it was.
Who laid out Monitor Pass road? Who made the first ski hill in Alpine County? What was it like on the French Riviera in 1944?
How did you get that bad back of yours? And how many times did that place burn down? Now we know.
Their stories are recorded on tape and transcribed into booklets that are for sale at our museum in Markleeville. It opens Memorial Day.
Do you know anyone over 80?
Sit down and have them talk to you.
Listen closely. You ought to know what they know. It’s history.
— Bill Morgan is a Markleeville resident. He is filling in for Gina Gigli while she is on vacation.