Terry Astin of Janesville was thinking about the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic and people staying at home because of it. At age 73, the 1964 Milton Union High School graduate has several underlying medical conditions.
“I think all of us at one time or another have a tendency to kind of look at what’s going on and feel a little bit sorry for ourselves,” he said during a telephone interview. “I just tried to look outside of that.”
After reading what someone born in the early 1900s had endured in a lifetime, he was inspired to write about the life of his grandfather Lawrence “Shirl” Astin, born in Nov. 11, 1897, in the Jefferson County town of Cold Springs. Terry Astin shared a timeline of events and comments with his extended family, and his cousin Phylis Hull Olson of Janesville shared them with the Milton Courier.
“My grandpa is a good example of someone whose life probably went well beyond the frustrations and difficulties that we currently face,” said Terry Astin, who had a close relationship with his grandpa and even more so after his father died at age 41.
Milton Junction history remembers Lawrence Astin as the Milton Junction postmaster for 27 years until he retired in 1963. Terry Astin remembers “Gramps,” as he called him, saying President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him postmaster, a job that required owning a typewriter and pistol.
Lawrence Earl Astin was born to Shirley Astin (1874-1946) and Lottie (Rockwell) Astin (1874-1942).
When World War I started on July 28, 1914, Lawrence Astin was 16. Though several armistices were signed in 1918, the armistice that left a lasting global legacy was signed Nov. 11 (www.theworldwar.org/learn/armistice), the 21st birthday of Lawrence Astin.
“World War I claimed an estimated 16 million lives,” according the National Archives. “The influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people. One-fifth of the world’s population was attacked by this deadly virus. Within months, it had killed more people than any other illness in recorded history.”
Among those who died were Rosetta, 6, and Leroy, 16, siblings of Lawrence Astin.
In 1920 Lawrence Astin and Charlotte Hutson married in Milton Junction.
During the Great Depression, 1929-45, more than a 25% of the American workforce was out of work.
When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Lawrence Astin was 44. His oldest son, Lawrence E Astin Jr., served with the US Army, was taken prisoner of war during the Battle of the Bulge and held for three months by the Germans. According to the National World War II Museum, US casualties in WW II were more than 415,000.
Next was the Korean War – June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953. More than 37,000 Americans were killed.
In the Vietnam War, which began in 1955 and ended in 1975, more than 58,220 American soldiers died.
When the Cuban Missile Crisis – the tipping point in the Cold War – took place, Lawrence Astin was nearly 65.
“Life on our planet as we know it could have ended,” wrote Terry Astin.
After outlining a timeline of events, he continued: “Think of Gramp’s generation, how did they manage to get through all of that? As we look at our current circumstances, it would be to our benefit to compare our situation to Gramp’s generation. Perspective is needed if we are to make the correct decisions for our lifetimes.”
Among those to whom Terry Astin emailed the story he wrote were his granddaughters, twins, age 10.
“They’re at home, they can’t go to school,” he said. “They’re restricted from their friends. I really wanted them to see that maybe this wasn’t as bad what it could have been.”
After reading the email from her grandfather, Betty replied: “Your Gramps had it much worse than we do.”