Monday, May 28, 2007
Dad in the Army, Mom at Douglas Aircraft, and us on Memorial Day
It's Memorial Day, and like most Americans, we've got our flag flying in front of our house. I recall as a child in LA on this holiday seeing the veteran's cemetery on Veteran Avenue, usually like a stiff porcupine of white crosses, changed into moving, lively and even festive acres, with small flags waving from each of the graves.
I am fortunate, perhaps, that I know of none of my relatives who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. But my father, a member of what has been termed "the greatest generation" did give several years of his life to our nation's service during World War II, rising from a private in the army to the rank of Major. He volunteered when he realized that he would soon be drafted, seeking to take the exam to enter Officer's Candidate School, which he did. The photo above has the following written by him on the reverse: "Honey--this picture is not very good--I'll send you a better one later. Taken on the Virginia V--July 4, 1941."
He was stationed at posts in California (San Diego, Watsonville), Washington state (Fort Flagler, Fort Lewis), and finally was assigned with others to run a prisoner of war camp in Anchorage, Alaska. As part of his duty there, he traveled to some of the coldest, most desolate regions of our nation, where temperatures of 50-below-zero prevailed. He told us a few tales...of being unable to go outside without every inch of skin covered, lest he receive instant frostbite. Of chowing down on vegetables from a magical valley where the extended sunlight yielded cabbages bigger than basketballs. Of the Italian prisoners under his charge making pasta and stringing it from the rafters to dry. The photo at left is one I found in his things after he passed away in 2004.
My father was lucky that the army chose for him assignments that kept him out of harm's way. But he inculcated us, his children, that it is a normal, expected duty to serve one's country.
My mother also served in World War II, working as a secretary at the Douglas Aircraft plant in Santa Monica, California. She wasn't a Rosy the Riveter, exactly, but she furthered the construction of the planes used in the war. The post card at right was also found in my parents' things. On the back is printed, "Douglas SBD 'Dauntless.' Fastest and most powerful dive bomber in large scale service by any air force is the Douglas 'Dauntless.' Since Pearl Harbor this is the winged weapon that has borne the brunt of our Navy's air operations in the Pacific."
We live in a privileged land, and it is our willingness to protect and preserve it that allows us to thrive. We seldom think about the many freedoms we enjoy, and the hardships endured by those who enter the military, and too often, give everything--so we can now engage in lively debate, choose where we live, receive advanced educations, enter a supermarket and be dazzled by too many cereal options. If someone wants to start a business, he can. If he wishes to publish a book, all he needs is a computer, and some cash. If someone wants to invent a new church, there's no suppression. No censorship.
I think of the refugees in Africa. The killing fields in Cambodia. The starvation imposed on my husband's relatives in Russia. God has blessed our nation, and the men and women who come forward and postpone their personal goals for the good of us all know this in a most intimate way. Their families deserve equal thanks, for each day without a dad, a daughter, a friend, is more stressful, more difficult. And the rest of us...need some humility. I am grateful to have had the father I did, and I am grateful for the message he taught me, that freedom and democracy comes with a price. Thank you to all who have contributed.