Tom Brokaw, in celebrating the generation that won World War II, named the young men and women who went off to fight “The Greatest Generation.” His reasoning was that these city and country kids laid down their normal lives and for four years they served their country in one of the toughest wars ever fought. Then they came back home and created the economic miracle that was the U.S. economy during the 1950s and 1960s.
And that’s true…as far as it goes. Most of the kids who marched off to war during the 1940s were drafted, but they went and did their duty in places as tough as the Arctic and the Sahara Desert. About 50 Kendall County men lost their lives while serving their country.
The vast majority of those who enlisted or who were drafted then returned home to an overjoyed populace and then were integrated back into the nation’s workforce, helped by a lavish series of G.I. Bills that provided free college educations and nearly interest-free home loans.
In comparison, the youths who fought in the Civil War suffered far greater causalities and received little in the way of rewards when they returned home. And the Civil War soldiers who left to fight the trators who formed the Confederacy suffered far more than their grandchildren who fought the Axis powers in the 1940s.
Here in Kendall County, 247 of the roughly 1,500 men and boys who served died while in service. That’s an astonishing 16 percent casualties. And that doesn’t include those who died after being either invalided out of the service or whose wounds—mental and physical—killed them long after their service.
For instance, Capt. William Fowler of Oswego, a justice of the peace and a former Sheriff of Kendall County, died in 1872 after being confined to the Elgin State Mental Hospital. Capt. Fowler recruited one of the companies of the 127th Illinois Volunteer Infantry at Oswego but was invalided out, Capt. William S. Bunn finishing out the war in command of the company. Fowler’s derangement was likely caused by what we would today call post traumatic stress. Wright Murphy, who enlisted in the 127th with his son, Robinson B. Murphy, came home from the war total exhausted, and died shortly after returning, broken in health. And Capt. William Hobbs of Yorkville, while being treated in the 1870s for a rifle bullet lodged in his leg, died much to the distress of his family and his community.
The 247 who died during their service caused a blight on Kendall County that lasted for years. To take so many young, vigorous men out of the equation was an irreparable loss for our county, our state, and the nation.
So while the World War II men and women may form a great generation, I’m leaning towards the Civil War generation being given the honorary title of “The Greatest Generation.” They more than earned it in blood.
Looking for more Kendall County history? Go to their web site to see my weekly Reflections column in the Ledger-Sentinel.
3 responses to “The greatest generation?”
I just discovered your blog; I’m going to enjoy this! Thank you. If you were on Facebook, I’d LIKE your page.
Welcome, Jeri. I’ve been posting irregularly, but intend to keep it up. History is fun!
Yes, it is; you do a fabulous job.