In the years since my discovery of my father’s war letters, I’ve had some good discussions with friends about WWII. And one thing surprised me: of all my friends, no one had a father involved in any theater of the war.
My husband’s father died at Okinawa, and he probably didn’t know he had a son. My uncle Bob was at Guadalcanal, as well as other battles in the Pacific.
And other than Richard and Bob, it began to seem that no one else had gone to war.
So, when I heard on NPR that only half of one per cent (yep, just .5%) of the American population is currently involved in military service, I began to wonder how many Americans were in the fighting back in the forties.
One of the figures I found was that there were about 16.1 million men involved, and that their overseas service lasted, on average, 16 months. There were 133,402,471 people in the States at the beginning of the war. So that, according to my math, is a little over 8% of the population.
There is a lot of statistical data left to ponder after any war. And WWII is dizzying. To double-check myself, I wrote to the WWII Museum in New Orleans and also to my personal WWII expert, Josh Simer, to see what they could dredge up. Josh served in the Army and National Guard after getting his degree at Harvard. He’s a regular encyclopedia of statistics, dates, battles and war information of all kinds. When he was a first grader, in fact, WWII was about all he talked about.
He found two sources. The first, http://www.prb.org/source/acf1396.pdf, states that 12% of the population and 56% of the men eligible for service were involved. The second source, http://www.pewresearch.org/daily-number/small-share-of-americans-in-active-military-duty/ is a bit closer to my estimate, at 9%.
The difference between his sources, Josh explains, is that the first counted all those who went to war, whether they served just months or the duration. Richard would have been counted, then, though he died at Okinawa. The second source used figures from just one day, September 2, 1945—a date just a month or so before the end of the war in the Pacific. Because he was killed in March, Richard wasn’t included in that count.
Of course, the 240,000 merchant mariners* like my father weren’t included in either estimate.
Yes, about half of the country was female. And many of those women and some men were working hard stateside to produce the things necessary to win.
But it’s still a surprise to me that it’s so hard to find other children whose parents were involved in an event that lasted years and has had such an impact on so many lives. Having a father who was a part of WWII—even one on a ship delivering supplies—isn’t as universal as I had thought.
So it’s good to connect with other Daughters of WWII and to hear the stories of the other fellows who were involved. (I hope you’ve added your family story to the archives here.)
If you’re interested in statistics at all, and if you can spend 18 minutes thinking deeply about the war, this is a great representation of the total number (world-wide) who sacrificed their lives: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/06/world-war-two-fatalities-visualized_n_7526390.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592
It’s a good thing to share on the Fourth of July weekend.