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An Album of Memories

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An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation, By Tom Brokaw. (New York: Random House, 2001. Pg 336.) ISBN: 0-3755-0581-4

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - May 28, 2001

Tom Brokaw has written three books in which he allows members of the Greatest Generation to speak for, and of, themselves. When he wrote The Greatest Generation, he had no idea that it would blossom into an ongoing series. The first volume was quickly followed by a second, The Greatest Generation Speaks. And now, almost as quickly, the third volume has arrived.

The third book in the Greatest Generation series is aptly titled, An Album of Memories: Personal histories from the Greatest Generation. In this volume, Brokaw has compiled a compelling collection of letters that chronicle the history of the Greatest Generation. The members of the Greatest Generation are those individuals who grew-up during the Great Depression, and who valiantly fought the good fight, on both the war and home fronts, during World War II. Interspersed with these personal reminiscences are brief historical overviews of the periods covered, and time lines of important events.

The letters are poignant and revealing. They tell what it was like growing up, and coming of age, during the depression. They offer personal insights into what going to war meant and how the writers felt when war was declared. They also discuss what it was like to be left at home; dealing with separation and a new social order in which women and children had to step in and take over the jobs vacated by men who were off fighting. The letters are resplendent with patriot fervor and the sense of duty that the members of the Greatest Generation had, to both their own families and to their country.

Most of the letters included in this book were written by service men and women. Others by family members retelling the tale of loved ones lost. All are written with a quiet dignity. The writers do not complain about the hardships, or the horrors, that they had to endure. Rather they candidly and unflinchingly talk about what life was like for them growing up and during the war. Most of the letters, even the sadder ones, resound with a positive attitude. Few writers express any sign of anger or regret. These letters are uplifting to the extreme, and they provide an in-depth and personal glimpse of a bygone world.

The letters in An Album of Memories are grouped into five thematic chapters: The Depression and Pearl Harbor, The War in Europe, The War in the Pacific, The Home Front, and Reflections. The letters are generously illustrated with copies of personal photos and memorabilia. The memorabilia displayed in this book include pictures of ration books, notices that a soldier was missing or killed in action, memorial cards, newspaper clippings, prisoner-of-war registration documents, and v-mail.

Most history books just give you the facts. This book gives you the feelings. The letters cover a variety of topics, ranging from recollections of the Bataan Death March to having to deal with Racial Segregation in the South while serving in the military. All too many expound upon what it was like when you found out that your loved one had been killed in action and was never coming home. The letters also discuss what it was like after the war, such as what it was like to meet people who had previously been enemies and what it was like returning to 'real' life.

Poignant and nostalgic, these letters will keep you enthralled. The only drawback too this book is that it is too short. Many, if not all of the letters, leave you wanting to know more. I will not be at all surprised if the Greatest Generation turns into a four, five, or ten book series! For members of the Greatest Generation, it is a step back into the past, to revisit old friends and old memories. For many, this, and the other Greatest Generations books, serve as a magical looking glass. A looking glass that offers a unique glimpse into the world in which their parents, or grandparents, grew up and came of age in.

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