One of them was Frank Lautenberg. His prospects seemed dim. His father died when he was a teenager, and his mother ran a sandwich shop. But thanks to the G.I. Bill of Rights, he was able to attend Columbia University.
Most big corporations in those days did not hire Jews for management positions, but Lautenberg was able to get in on the ground floor of a startup company called Automatic Payrolls Inc.
Automaic Payrolls filled a niche created by the wartime institution of income tax withholding. Businesses needed someone to do the paperwork, and Lautenberg was hired as a salesman by the firm's founders.
Soon he became head of the renamed Automatic Data Processing (ADP), and under his leadership it processed paychecks for about 10 percent of the national workforce. With the fortune he made, Lautenberg was able to pay for his first Senate campaign in 1982.
Like many but by no means all World War II veterans, Lautenberg was a liberal Democrat, a fighter unafraid of navigating the sometimes troubled waters of New Jersey politics.
He retired from the Senate in 2000 but was happy to be called back by Democratic politicos to replace his scandal-struck colleague Bob Torricelli, with whom he had a stormy relationship, on the 2002 ballot.
The Greatest Generation has had a long and sometimes stormy run in American politics. Lyndon Johnson was tripped up by Vietnam, and Richard Nixon by Watergate.
Ronald Reagan did much to restore the faith in institutions that seemed so strong in what his generation always called The War.
Now, with just two World War II veterans in the House, the Greatest Generation is finally passing on into history.
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