Watching all the memorials of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I found myself tearing up. My father enlisted in the Navy in June of 1944. He was only 17 and his mother had to sign her permission. He served through 1946 on the USS Enterprise. He passed away a few years ago. Watching these memorials, I was reminded of a blog I wrote a few years back. I’m reprinting it here in honor of my father and all the members of that “Greatest Generation.”
The Boys of Summer
The frayed, sepia-toned photo is twice as long as it is tall. In it, a group of young men in matching baseball uniforms, with well-worn gloves, kneel or stand, all looking off to their left at something not caught by the camera lens. In the corner of the photo, in faded pencil, is written, “Summer of ‘46.” Most of these young men were newly-returned from Europe, Africa, the South Pacific where their eyes saw things they’ll rarely speak of over the next 60 years.
What catches their attention off camera? Is it a pretty girl; did the photographer tell them all to look to their left, or are they gazing into their future not knowing that some day they’ll be called “The Greatest Generation”? One of these chiseled-jawed young men is my father (the one in the satin jacket); two others are my uncles, and the team manager in the back row is my grandfather. I saw this photo for the first time at a family reunion recently. My grandfather has been gone over 30 years, but the three young men are now in their 80s, with fading memories, and creaking knees. Up into their 70s, they still played baseball at our family reunions, a nostalgic tribute to by-gone days and former glories.
These three young men all led good lives, married, raised families and contributed to their communities. I can’t help wondering though what future they were envisioning when that photo was snapped in the summer of ‘46. All would face the celebrations, tragedies, and daily disappointments that we call the human condition. Those of us who are their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren can only hope that we’ll do as well.