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Frank Mathias was born in Maysville, Kentucky, (pop. 7000) in 1925 and grew up in nearby Carlisle (pop. 1500), where life in his small town was much like that in towns and villages all across America. He came of age in an era of total security; his parents never even had a key to their front door. Daily living was infused with gossip; no one had a secret, and everyone knew everyone else's business. Outdoor life was a vital part of growing up, and teachers and mentors instilled a sense of right and wrong in young people. Raised during the Great Depression, Mathias became a member of a fighting force the likes of which the world had never known, a legion now called “The Greatest Generation.

The GI Generation tells Mathias's story of growing up with the sweet whistle of the L&N train and the summer-kitchen smells of hot salt-rising bread and blackberry cobbler, which could instantly halt even the most rousing game of cowboys and Indians. Much of community life focused on the local high school, which, in Mathias's case, was a tiny one with no chemistry courses, no drivers' training, and no guidance counselors. Yet the one hundred students who graduated between 1942 and 1944 became university professors, top executives, military commanders, successful investors, lawyers, and physicians.

A vivid portrait of a bucolic pre-war boyhood, The GI Generation takes readers back to an era when boys rustled watermelons under the hot summer sun and young lovers danced to the sounds of farmhouse bands. Whether describing the unfortunate (but delicious) end of his brother's pet chicken, Don, or the ominous clouds of war, Mathias writes with humor, honesty, and compassion.

Winner of the 2001 Ohioana Book for nonfiction.

"This memoir is an important reminder that urban life is not the only life: it reveals, for instance, that for people living close to their needs and far from the command-posts of the cash economy, a thing like the Great Depression could be largely irrelevant. Frank Mathias respectfully renders small-town history as a worthy piece of something larger: ourselves. America."—Barbara Kingsolver

"A trip down memory lane. Filled with amusing and often poignant stories, it presents a picture of a kinder, less sophisticated, more moral society."—Bowling Green Daily News

"Nowhere is what we’ve lost more poignantly apparent. . . . An insightful travelogue in time as well as place."—Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Vividly recaptures the sights, sounds, smells, and very texture of small-town and rural life in the interwar years."—Journal of Southern History

"A well-received collection of memoirs about what is being called the Greatest Generation."—Kettering-Oakwood (OH) Times

"Vivid and accurate, poignant and funny, this is a marvelous picture of pre-war life whose readability is enhanced by its insights into what makes the American character."—Library Journal

"An insightful look at what the ‘Greatest Generation’ was like before they fought and won the war."—Maysville Ledger-Independent

"A memoir about the wondrous variety of daily life, even during the Depression years, that shaped the men and women of the era."—McCormick (SC) Messenger

"An affectionate and nostalgic memoir."—Ohio History

"A sensitive and respectful balance between the stories of his childhood and the realities of war."—Ohioana Quarterly

"A sobering, well-considered and engrossing portrait of ordinary life in a tumultuous era."—Publishers Weekly

"A gentle and worthwhile read for those interested in Kentucky’s rural past."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Mathias weaves a three-dimensional tapestry of just how these young Americans became so well-bonded that they could make a powerful contribution toward the defeat of Germany, Italy, and Japan."—Sewanee Review

"Takes us back to a time and place that live on in the memories of all of us who grew up in small towns and rural America. . . . I recommend it highly."—Stephen E. Ambrose

"He recreates such a complete and convincing world."—War, Literature, and the Arts

"Poignant moments break the narrator’s nostalgic rhythm as we learn that particular playmates will later die fighting on foreign shores."—Washington Post Book World

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Frank F. Mathias, Great Depression, World War II, Carlisle


United States History

The GI Generation: A Memoir
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