World War II influenced American society in profound ways. Levels of education, financial status, and technical abilities all blended together to form one, 16-million-man fighting force. The greatest sociological change was evidenced in the bond between soldiers of all geographic locations in the United States, states and regions which had previously been isolated and separate. It truly was a military of the citizen-soldier.
In the foxholes across Europe and the Pacific, at the machine-gun stations of their Flying Fortresses, or at their gun turrets aboard naval vessels, American men from all walks of life were forced to work together as a team. Thus, the teacher from Princeton, the farmer from Oklahoma, the lobsterman from Maine, and the actor from Hollywood, all came together as one unit.
It was a difficult blending at times. For example, African Americans could only be stewards in the Navy and their units were segregated in the Army. In 1939, the United States had the seventeenth largest military behind Romania. By 1945, over 16 million Americans had served.
They quickly learned how to send Morse code, how to load ammunition into an artillery piece as a team, how to fix damaged tanks together, how to entertain each other, and most importantly, how to fight other nations’ militaries that consisted primarily of professional soldiers.
For most of these young Americans, the higher ideal of fighting a war for Democracy was not the primary motivation in their day-to-day purgatory of combat. For the most part, they fought for each other and their own unit. When one of their own was wounded or killed, it was most grievous. They had lost a brother-in-arms. When the war ended, and they went home, they were changed forever in that they were now all Americans who had fought on the same field.
The country would never be the same.