The special stories of those born in 1945
I’m waiting to meet a friend one Sunday evening when a security guard ambles up. He asks if I need help.
I say “No, thanks, I’m just an old guy who’s glad to be upright.”
The guard glares at me and says I look pretty good for a Boomer.
“Thanks, but I’m not a Boomer,” I say. “I was born in 1945. The Boomers began showing up in 1946.”
Like every other living being these days, the guard reaches for his cell phone, with an incredulous look on his face.
Then: “Darned if you aren’t right, mister,” he says. “Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Says so right here.”
I resist the urge to rub it in — I’ve had a form of this conversation dozens of times — when the guard asks: “OK, then, if you’re not a Boomer, what are you?”
That, dear reader, doesn’t appear on any phone, regardless of how often you click or scroll. Because we 1945 babies are a cohort like no other.
We are not exactly Eisenhowerites (they were earlier). We are not exactly rock-around-the-clockers (they were later). And we’re not exactly the Silent Generation, which encompasses 1928 to 1945 (we 45ers are far from silent).
What we are is a bunch of very unlikely humans.
Like most other American daddies, ours were supposed to be overseas in 1944 and early 1945, fighting enemies on one side of the world or the other.
But for a variety of reasons — some improbable, some sad, some sketchy — our Papas remained on the home front. They and their wives did what people do. Most of the results remain, upright for the most part.
For many years, I’ve been collecting the stories of ‘45ers. We are quite a bunch.
One woman in Baltimore exists because her father was an atomic scientist. He worked in New York, and later in New Mexico, developing the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. That exempted him from the draft.
Another woman was born in Seattle. Her dad was a professor who she recalled as being “the most fit, masculine, soldierly person” she has ever known. But he never served because, while aboard an oceanographic research vessel in 1943, he got his leg caught in a winch and lost it.
An elementary school classmate was the son of an immigrant from Hungary. The immigrant had flat feet. The Army rejected him.
His wife evidently did not. The couple had three children in the four years of World War II. My pal was the caboose.
Then there was the ‘45er who grew up in Chicago and never met his father. For the first 25 years of his life, his mother told him that his father had been killed in the war. Finally, on her deathbed, she told him the truth.
His father was a GI who had a one-night pass in 1944. The couple met in a dance hall on State Street. She never even knew his name. “That was the way it was during the war,” the woman told her son.
My own creation still makes me shudder — and giggle.
It was September, 1944. My mother was within nine months of finishing her PhD. My father had tried and failed to enlist for nearly three years. His heart condition had steadily kept him out.
But by autumn 1944, the bottom of the barrel had been reached, so the Army took him. He was assigned to basic training in Mississippi.
My mother calculated that if she became pregnant on or about Sept. 1, she’d give birth on or about June 1, 1945. She was scheduled to defend her dissertation on May 31. A perfect fit, right?
However, travel was very difficult in those wartime months. So, my mother took a train to Mississippi. It took her two days. She had exactly two hours with my father. Then she returned to New York by train — another two days.
I was born on June 2, 1945.
Many years later, I visited the encampment in Biloxi where my father had been assigned (it’s now an Air Force base). I swallowed my embarrassment and asked my military guide where a guy might have gone with his young wife in 1944 to, um, you know…
Did my father have money for a hotel? No. Did he know anybody in town who could have let them use a room? No. Was he an officer with private quarters? No.
“Well, then,” said the guide, “maybe there.”
He pointed to the banks of a creek. He said that was where enlisted men took their best girls to be, um, alone.
I walked over. The banks of the creek were muddy from a recent rain. I took a deep breath.
I might literally be a creature from a swamp. I defy any Boomer to top that one, or even match it.
Boomers have had an easy ride, wafted along by Wonder Bread, Ovaltine and endless Coca-Cola. We ‘45ers were made of sterner — and occasionally slipperier — stuff.
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.