By Esther L. Manewith, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Those of us who were in grammar school during World War II have a unique perspective on America. We love it dearly – because we sacrificed for it; even a child or seven or eight knew “sacrifice” during the war years.
Paper drives? As little as we were, we lugged newspapers to school. Sometimes we carried them in brown paper shopping bags; other times, if we were lucky, we had a red wagon. We knew that this would help the “war effort.”
Scrap metal drives? We gave our old roller skates and our brothers’ tin toy airplanes. We were told that this would help “the boys come home.”
We carefully helped our mothers pour melted cooking fat into tin cans and put them into the refrigerator to harden. Then, we could proudly carry the cold grease to the butcher and get paid two cents per pound; fat, we were told, was used in making ammunition. (Years later, as an adult, I learned that this was a ploy to get people involved in helping – and the fat was eventually put in a freight cars and poured out in the prairies of Iowa and Kansas.)
On Fridays, with a dime clutched in our hand, we bought a “savings stamp” and put it into a paper booklet. Once we had enough stamps, we could turn the booklet in for a savings bond.
And we sacrificed in other ways. Meatless Tuesdays and Thursdays meant salmon patties or tuna loaf – not everyone’s favorite. But we ate it because we were told, “there’s a war going on.”
For the youngsters of that generation, giving of oneself became a habit.
After the war, we helped the children of refugees learn to read and write English.
We moved on to help paint the walls of a community center in a poorer Chicago neighborhood. And we volunteered in those centers, reading aloud to little kids and helping the bigger ones with arithmetic.
When we had children of our own, we were PTA parents who volunteered as crossing guards at busy corners and who helped raise funds for extra equipment in the gym. It was our efforts that saved a teacher or two when cut-backs were initiated by the Chicago Public Schools.
Historians told us we were the “silent generation” – but we were not. We were only unheralded.
And, to this day, with the problems we face, it is our generation that still loves our country with a fierce and energetic love. We look at our country today and we are dismayed. We know that time brings change – but the changes that have come recently are not necessarily good and our hearts are not warmed as they once were.
We don’t have to “make American great again”….we know it was always great, because we worked hard to make it so.