World War II Veterans – Changing the Face of America
Returning soldiers from World War II were afforded many opportunities, especially through the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944 (the GI Bill), which was enacted to combat the chaos of 15 million war veterans returning to civilian life. Pre-World War II, many of these soldiers had no education, were unskilled, and lived in overcrowded and substandard housing (Greenberg, 2004). With the opportunities provided by the GI Bill came many changes to American society. Some changes came easily, as a natural progression from opportunity, and some were hard-fought, often with great sacrifice. Among the changes that occurred with the return of World War II veterans were the rise of suburbia, a more educated population, and the advent of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Rise of Suburbia
When the soldiers returned home from World War II, they returned to a housing shortage. Many generations of families lived together in the same home, thus making for very cramped quarters. The newly married soldiers were quick to start families (the Baby Boom), causing even more of a need for housing. An enterprising businessman, William J. Levitt, addressed the housing shortage with the creation of Levittown in Long Island, New York in 1949. He hired World War II architects and builders, whose experience in building military housing was instrumental in being able to quickly produce affordable housing by constructing the homes in an assembly line process (Hale, n.d.). Veterans and their new families flocked to Levittown, using the low cost mortgage benefit provided to them through the GI Bill to purchase their homes. In the period between 1948 through 1958, 11 million of the 13 million homes that were built, were built in suburbs, and with this development came infrastructure, shopping centers, churches and schools (Mintz, S., & McNeil, S., 2013) . Carl Arnesen, who grew up in Levittown, recalls, “"In addition to the community pools, parks, village greens, bowling alleys, skating rink, ice cream parlors and movies, we had many other activities available to us” (as cited by Hale, n.d., para. 10). Arnesen goes on to describe an idyllic neighborhood, with dances, carnivals, and fireworks every 4th of July. Truly, Levittown was the picture of Americana suburbia, which is still alive and well today.
Before World War II, going to college was restricted to the small percentage of the population that had the luxury of affording tuition. One in 16 adults had a college education, and the majority of the population only went to elementary school. In fact, only 25% of the population was able to graduate from high school (Greenberg, 2004). The GI Bill provided the opportunity for veterans to obtain an education or vocational skills by paying for tuition at colleges, vocational schools, and apprenticeships. Also, veterans received a stipend to live on, as well as getting their books and all school...