By Tom Costello Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/9/2004 7:49:16 PM ET 2004-12-10T00:49:16

Sixty years ago, America was engaged in a war of survival: facing enemies in Europe and Asia. With 16 million Americans under arms, the country came together — sacrificing for sons, brothers and fathers fighting half a world away.

Store shelves were empty as families rationed butter, meat, even gasoline. Meanwhile, the nation's industrial complex churned out war machinery at a rate never seen before.

"Franklin Roosevelt declared America the arsenal of democracy, meaning that if you are going to go to war, in the Pacific and Europe, then you've got to keep your troops armed properly," says presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

But the war in Iraq is not World War II. Instead of an Army of draftees, today it’s an Army of volunteers and reservists doing the fighting. And they're still showing the ingenuity so characteristic of the American GI — searching through desert junkyards for scraps of metal to bolt onto their Humvees for added protection.

And while it's business as usual for many back home, the families of soldiers and Marines have also been pressed into action — sending flak jackets, radios and GPS units to the front lines.

"We simply did not anticipate having enough vehicles on the scene, and we certainly didn't anticipate having enough to leave them there for the time they've been," says NBC military analyst retired Army Col. Ken Allard.

The Pentagon is rushing more armor-plated Humvees to Iraq amid reports it's still short some 2,000. But in Florida a company that makes armor-plate kits says the Pentagon hasn't contacted them asking for help.

"We just basically want to let them know that we're here to help and we have a facility 100 percent dedicated to this effort," says Mark Smith, the CEO of Protective Products International.

While the military says it's responding as quickly as it can to safeguard the lives of Americans fighting an unconventional war, some families and soldiers are now wondering whether the nation's commitment to Iraq is as strong as it was to a cause 60 years ago.

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