Kathryn Brennan was a teenager in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, during World War II. She recounts both her memories of the war as a teenage girl and how her wartime experiences affect her current beliefs. She recounts her father’s interest in World War II, and how his opinions were shaped by his own involvement in World War I. She also recalls the story of an uncle who served in the war and developed PTSD, and how his mental illness led to homelessness and disconnection from the family. She remembers listening to the radio for most of her news, and the war’s long-term influence on her understanding of the world.
Uncle’s PTSD and Homelessness after the War
[That] one I remember because I did have an uncle who was on the Normandy beach; I had forgotten that. Yes, when he came back—now they call it Post[-Traumatic] Stress Disorder. Well, at that time, they didn’t even know anything about that. And yes, he definitely wound up with mental problems.
He had been married and after seven years when he came back, he and his wife separated because he was just—. And he became homeless. Actually, he died here in Florida. He was homeless here in Florida.
NG: And did that affect your family at all, like your parents?
Yes, of course. He had a sister—one of my father’s sisters and his sister too—who the VA [Veterans Affairs] paid whatever was due him on a monthly basis. They paid it to her and she took care of things. But then, when he came to Florida, they kind of lost contact. It was shocking when we heard that he had passed away in one of the homeless camps down here. So when you asked me, “Did it affect the rest of my [family],” it did, didn’t it? Pretty seriously.
Current Concerns and Worldview
NG: And how have your experiences as a child during this period shaped your life?
Well, you hate to hear anything where these young kids are being killed. I mean, it’s tragic that this has to happen. With all these terrorist things that’s going on these days, it’s shocking, shocking. Seventy-five years ago, or when I was growing up, you went out to play in the morning, you got called in for lunch, and you went out, and you were called in for dinner. It’s not like today, where you can’t leave your children out by themselves. They have to be constantly watched.
This world is going to hell in a handbasket. And I sincerely hope that all the corruption in the government can be taken care of, because I hate it. I hate it.
Father’s Views on World War I and World War II
NG: And since your father was in World War I, what was his view about World War II? What did he think about it? Or did he talk about it with you at all?
Well, yeah. The main battle he talked about was Argonne Forest, which was in the First World War. And he was very concerned, and he listened to the news all the time.
But it was a totally different war, World War I and World War II. World War II was a whole lot more mechanized, really. My father, he was a member of a gun crew, and those guns were pulled by horses. He had this horse, and he used to talk about his horse all the time, that he had to take care of. Remember, he was only seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old. So yeah, he was very concerned about the war.
Celebrating the War Ending
NG: Do you remember how you felt when the war ended?
Oh, yeah! I was on my way to Wildwood, New Jersey. And of course, when the war ended all these kids that were on their way to Wildwood, New Jersey, all those guys were kissing us and it was party time! So yes, I remember that. [laughing]