In his book "The Greatest Generation" journalist Tom Brokaw opened our eyes to the sacrifices of young Americans from the Great Depression of the 1930s through the second World War.
In World War II, the spirit in this country was as strong and focused as any time in its history. While the nation's young men were enlisting in the military by the hundreds of thousands, the women also had an essential role in the greatest mobilization of resources the country had ever known.
By 1944, 12 million Americans were in uniform and during the war, some 16 million Americans served their nation. War production represented 44 percent of the Gross National Product, and this economic impact was the reason why the nation was able to dig its way out of The Depression. There were almost 19 million more workers than there had been five years earlier, and 35 percent of them were women.
The men and women who fought and won the great conflict are now mostly in their 90s. According to the Veterans Administration, there are just over one million alive, including about 55,000 in Pennsylvania.
Our World War II veterans are dying at the rate of about 555 a day. That's why their words must be treasured and their exploits never forgotten. Reporter Ron Gower wrote about two of them in last Saturday's Times News. Estelle Sverchek, 96, of Lansford, and Betty Chabala, 92, of Summit Hill were two of the more than 59,000 American nurses who served in the Army Nurse Corps in World War II.
Ninety-six percent of the 670,000 wounded soldiers and sailors who made it to a field hospital staffed by nurses and doctors survived their injuries in World War II, thanks to the medical advances and the expert skill and care of the doctors and nurses staffing those hospitals.
The fact that Estelle and Betty's service careers had such similar paths was quite amazing. Their story put me in mind of Bill Guarnere and Edward "Babe" Heffron, two of the "Band of Brothers" from the famed 101st Airborne who met during the war, even though they came from the same neighborhood in South Philadelphia. They remained friends until Heffron died last December and Guarnere three months later.
The veteran nurses also brought home with them valuable skills and practical experiences they had acquired in the service and became valuable assets to the community. As last Saturday's feature story pointed out, both Estelle and Betty returned to Panther Valley and became nurses at the former Coaldale State Hospital, now St. Luke's Miners Health Center.
Their service and contributions of the World War II generation can never be overstated. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped cement their legacy when he stated: "This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."
By Jim Zbick