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The ‘Greatest Generation’ would find today’s social distancing complaints laughable | READER COMMENTARY

A 93-year-old World War II Veteran shops at a grocery store in Torrance, California. Torrance. Doors to the store opened at 6 a.m. for seniors and at-risk shoppers due to the Coronavirus and at 7 a.m. for other customers.
A 93-year-old World War II Veteran shops at a grocery store in Torrance, California. Torrance. Doors to the store opened at 6 a.m. for seniors and at-risk shoppers due to the Coronavirus and at 7 a.m. for other customers. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

We baby boomers and generations that have followed are soft. This should not engender feelings of shame; all humans are a product of the environment and circumstances of the world that shaped them. We have been mostly witnesses to, rather than active participants in, the defense against critical threats to the country. (My apologies, to the small percentages of the nation that went to war in Vietnam and the Middle East. For my part, I confess to great relief when the lottery gifted me with a high draft number. As an older man, that relief is now, in part, supplanted by a sense of guilt, the timing of which is suspect).

The baby-boomer parents, often called the “Greatest Generation” can reach out from the grave and teach us one last lesson applicable to our pandemic challenge. That lesson is to keep our “deprivations” in perspective; maintain a sense of proportion. These small sacrifices are for the greater good (”Five things learned from six weeks of lockdown," April 24). They had seen worse and done more.

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We complain of the monotony of our daily lives. Imagine being on a troop ship with nothing but ocean on the horizon for weeks on end as you cross the Pacific with thousands of other soldiers to face an enemy that has already conquered vast swaths of the world. How can we continue with this social distancing? Friends and loved ones must be kept at arm’s length (two arms, actually). During World War II, the G.I.s were separated from their wives, sweethearts and children by thousands of miles and up to four years. (My father was engaged to my mother in 1941, and they did not see one another for almost four years. The delay was such that when they reunited my father mistook my aunt for my mother. The fog of war, but that is a story for another day).

So, you think you have cabin fever? The soldiers in the Pacific theater had real fevers, deadly fevers, jungle fevers. It is estimated that up to 65% of soldiers serving in the South Pacific during World War II suffered from malaria. Wear a mask? Can you imagine that? What would it look like? Try walking around all day with a three-pound helmet on your head. You need to go to the beach? The beach is so restful, you say? Our parents knew a thing about beaches. It wasn’t so peaceful at Normandy or Okinawa or Saipan. They went to the beaches to save lives. You can stay away for the same reason. So, the grocery store is out of crabcakes. What will you do? You may be forced to eat salmon or, god-forbid, tilapia. In World War II, there was food rationing here in the United States. In concentration and prisoner-of-war camps, thousands died daily from malnutrition. Maybe you can eat a fish stick.

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We are told we can’t go to the movies to take our minds off the current crisis. We are forced to watch movies at home — on television — and make our own popcorn. In fact, with many cable companies, you can watch practically every movie ever made. Our parents’ generation went to the movies during World War II, but their main purpose was to get their news by means of newsreels. Oh, people did go to theaters back then. Either the European Theater or the Pacific Theater.

Finally, friends, families, clubs and businesses have complained that they have been forced to resort to Zoom, Facebook and other media to share news, good and bad. The Greatest Generation mostly received personal news by means of a Western Union telegram; emotionless words on cheap paper. I have two such telegrams. The first is dated December 18, 1945, from my father at Camp Stoneman, California, to my mother in Akron, Ohio. It states: “Back at last. All well. Here short time. Then home. Love. Bill.” The second is dated May 21, 1945 from my aunt to my mother concerning my father’s brother, who was in the U.S. Army in Europe. It states, “Willard died in Germany. May 1st. Do not write Bill.”

The Greatest Generation’s lesson from the grave teaches us to keep the inconveniences that the pandemic imposes in perspective. They had seen worse. Survived worse together. They would urge us to be kind to each other and beg us not engage in conduct that would result in a message similar to my aunt’s telegram of death.

John Severt, Columbia

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