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WHO WOULD HAVE believed that the day would come when baby boom-ers would reach midlife crisis?

This is the same group, remember, that hit the country by storm in May 1946, exactly nine months after V-J Day.Births in the United States jumped from February's low of 206,387 to 233,452. In June, they swelled to 242,302. In October, they went up again - 339,499, a record rate of growth.

By the end of the year, an all-time high of 3.4 million babies had been born in the United States - one every nine seconds - 20 percent more than in 1945.

The overall population made its biggest one-year gain in history to a total of 143 million.

Suddenly, pregnancy was patriotic.

More than a million Army wives had waited for President Harry S. Truman to "bring the boys back home," and now they were having kids. In the next year, 1947, more than 3.8 million babies arrived, another rec-ord.

And it was not just a short rise in the birthrate generated by returning GIs. It began that way, but instead of slowing in the 1950s, the tidal wave of births continued, affecting all races and classes.

It peaked in 1957, when more than 4.3 million babies were born. At least 4 million babies were born in each of the bumper-crop years from 1954 through 1964, the last real year of the baby binge.

The baby-boom generation became the biggest, richest and best-educated generation America has ever produced.

They were the first raised in the new suburbs, the first with new televisions, the first in the new high schools. They were twice as likely as their parents to go to college and three times as likely as their grandparents.

It was necessary for the whole economy to gear up so it could feed, clothe, educate and house the boomers. The baby boom would never have happened if a marriage boom had not preceded it, of course.

Encouraged by a thriving economy and shored up by GI Bill veterans benefits, more Americans married younger and faster than any other people in history. Everyone who could marry, it seemed, did.

We've been talking about boomers ever since. But now something strange is going to happen - the first are about to turn 50.

Ross Goldstein, a social scientist who predicts trends, says boomers "are not experiencing the doom and gloom that a lot of trend-trackers, myself included, predicted. They feel like they're in the prime of their lives, and they think their future looks terrific."

One of the reasons, says Gold-stein, is that "they don't feel bounded by the same restrictions as past generations. They feel age doesn't count any more. They don't have people telling them to act their age. And now that we have a boomer in the White House and boomers in the corner offices of some of the major corporations, they're beginning to feel some of the respect that goes with power and age."

Unlike prior generations who have considered middle age a scary time of loss - of abilities and powers - baby boomers appear secure.

"They're redefining middle age," says Goldstein. "They've always been interested in experimenting, and now they refuse to give up youthful feelings or proj-ects. They're also benefiting from advances in medical technology that allows people to live longer with healthy bodies."

Besides, "when you have 76 million people around you who are going through life at the same rate as you are, it becomes more comfortable."

After 50 years of dominating the news, the baby boomers seem poised to make history again.