It took millions of men who had never been far from home at all and sent them thousands of miles away to places they had never seen. It aged them, quickly and brutally, by exposing them to carnage, destruction and death on an scale difficult to imagine.
It made them appreciate life, and led many of them to try and live it to the fullest when they returned home.
But it was difficult for some to live with the things they had seen and experienced, much less explain them to loved ones in a way that they could understand. So many veterans of that war, my grandfather included, just buried it, and never spoke of the conflict until much, much later in their lives, if at all.
PTSD was undiagnosed at the time, and society did not adjust well to those unable to mentally deal with civilian life in a post-catastrophe world.
Speaking for my late father, who served with the IV Infantry Division and landed shortly after D-Day in Normandy, it was an experience that defined his life. As a recent high school graduate from rural Mississippi, he had never been out of the state before enlisting in the army. After basic training in Fort Hood, Texas, he headed overseas and was based in England for several months before the invasion. He saw the carnage and destruction wrought by both the Germans and the Allies, and he contributed to the horrors of the war himself. He received a severe back wound during the Battle of the Bulge (which affected him for the rest of his life) and recovered in time to join the IV Division as the first American unit to cross the Rhine River. World War II gave him a chance to see the horrors of war and the various European people it affected. When he returned 25 years later for a military reunion, he got a second chance to see how the lands had changed--in part because of his own participation in fulfilling his patriotic duty.
From a mental health perspective I can say that it changed the people who served significantly. Prior to World War II there were no mental health care systems like we have seen today. Most patients with mental illness were deemed severe enough and placed in institutions that offered poor services and housed men, women, and children.
When the Veterans returned home from war menaly of them began to suffer from post traumatic stress and they had no place to go to obtain decent level of care that they needed. To meet their needs the mental health centers were opened.
For the first time, our nation saw emotional and mental disabilities associated with war. This was evident because many of the man had no history or any evidence of mental illness prior to service.
Many soldiers looked back at the war as the greatest experience. One soldier said, “The war is a tragedy to my mind and soul…” Many immigrants serving on the side of America called the experience “Americanizing”. There was still discrimination such as the Japanese Americans being put in internment camps and the racism of African American soldiers. But, these people stood up for themselves in this war. They knew bravery now. People of various backgrounds came together to help the war effort and served in great harmony. Besides mentally, soldiers were also affected physically. Many came back with injuries that could not be healed and with various diseases. The U.S. army had to start a rotating system so that the soldiers would not damage themselves physically from the mental wounds they had suffered.