In my role as a professional archivist I come across interesting things sometimes.
Recently I was processing (identifying, sorting, and describing) a bunch of letters written in the late 1990s by people who were describing their personal experiences of WWII. Most of them were vets who were young at the time of the war, as might be expected.
But one was by a woman who was born in 1900. In steady if spidery script, her letter was dated 1999.
It struck me because I realized that when WWII really came to America in late 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, this woman was the same age I am now, about 42 years old (give or take a few months).
It struck me hard, because while my own father was a WWII vet, he entered the war at the ripe age 17 — the war defined the end of his childhood. This woman was, like I am now, a full grown adult. In her era she would have even been considered old, and past her prime.
World War II burned like a hot fire through the world, changing everything. This woman, who had reached maturity and probably gotten married during the era for the first world war, saw a cultural shift from a perspective we don’t think about too often now.
I’m 42 years old, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to watch WWII happen before my eyes. Yes, I experienced 9/11, but as traumatic as that was for us nationally, it was not the equivalent of a world war. Too much has changed.
She saw it happen, though, and then went on living for another 68 years. She remembered WWII — she remembered the whole damn century.
I wonder, if I were to live that long, what I would remember.