Americans During WWII
and the Hero in Each of Us... Now
to a Painter Forum
Dear and Caring Friends,
I need to say this because reading your messages I am both heart-warmed and concerned. My heart is warmed to not only read your caring and support for those who are suffering injury and loss, but to see nearly 100% unhesitating agreement that we cannot allow those responsible for yesterday's horrors to go free to commit these acts again. My concern comes when I read hesitance and apology for what is healthy and normal anger and even rage.
No apologies are needed for feeling strongly and none are needed for wanting, intending, to see those responsible stopped by whatever means are necessary. This does not mean wild reaction. It does mean wise action and response.
I was a child of three or four when WWII began in Europe and five when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. My father was a very young, tall, dark haired West Point graduate of 26 when he went off to war in Europe. He became a Lt. Colonel during the war and commanded a tank battalion. He was in the Battle of the Bulge and the Normandy Invasion, returning home with several medals and grey hair.
At home, during those years (as did my friends and their families), I helped gather scrap metal for "The War Effort", learned to knit squares that the Red Cross ladies turned into afghans for the soldiers, helped in my grandfather's Victory Garden, took a quarter to school each week to buy a War Bond, helped my grandmother mix color into "oleomargerine" (butter, gasoline, coffee, and other things were rationed), listened to my mother and grandparents discussing the War, hid in the heater closet with my family during Air Raid Drills, and felt the patriotism that nearly every American felt. (I only learned many years later that some protested the war. They must have been a very small minority of the U.S. population as no one spoke of them, and I heard nothing of them even on the radio.) We knew that we were fighting evil and helping to save our European and Pacific neighbors from even more pain, suffering, and death than they had already experienced.
There was not a family that didn't have a son, daughter, brother, sister, father, or cousin fighting in either Europe or the Pacific. Houses on many blocks displayed the signs of a son or daughter in the military, or a lost family member killed in battle, on their front doors.
I remember my very young uncle, probably no more than 19, coming across the field in front of our house with a duffle bag over his shoulder.. home on a 3 day pass.
I remember recieving letters from my father, sent months before but held up by the Army to prevent his location from being known.. until it was safe to send them. One was on a piece of paper torn from a tablet that he found when they captured a German village. He explained to his little girl that he surely would like to be home soon but "we have to get that Hitler guy first". He wrote to his sister, my aunt, who worked for a newspaper in Florida telling how it was for his men, how brave they were, and how brutal it was in battle. He said that he thought they might have broken a record, some 221 days battling their way across Europe without a single day's break. He said that at heart he was no combat solder and if all people were built like him, there would be no wars.
I remember that spirit of patriotism we all felt and how we stood and worked together for a common cause. We knew what was wrong and what was right and were not afraid to stand up and fight for life and freedom for ourselves and for others. That we did, for a few years without respite.
For a year during that time, we lived in Washington, D.C. with my aunt and uncle, also an Army officer. He was stationed at the Pentagon in the Chemical Warfare Department. Next door lived the Australian Ambassador, his wife, and daughter who was just a year older than I. Her mother was a "den mother" for a "pack" of Junior Waves, something like Girl Scouts except we were miniature U.S. Navy Waves.. (women sailors), complete with uniforms and all. We did fun little projects and felt proud in our spiffy uniforms. While we were in Washington, my uncle's sister and her Army officer husband and daughter came to visit. They had just been released from two years in a Japanese prison camp. They told us how their daughter, by then twelve, was treated well as the Japanese did treat both children and old people well. It was not so good for my uncle's sister and her husband and everyone, needless to say, was greatly relieved to have them back home again in more or less one piece. At seven, what impressed me the most was that while I was only seven and had permission to go around the block, their daughter was twelve and was not allowed to accompany me. It was many years later before I understood how protective her parents must have felt.
Our trip from California to Washington D.C. was made on trains filled with service men and women being transported from one military location to another and most of them probably being sent either to Europe or the Pacific. Lines to the dining car were so long they filled several cars. Knowing it would be hopelessly difficult for a young mother and her children to wait in such long lines for hours in order to eat three meals a day, my grandmother packed a large basket full of sandwiches to last the three days and four nights (or was it four days and three nights?) the trip would take. Even so, we made the walk to the dining car a couple of times during off hours and I remember the delightfully scary feeling crossing from one car to another while the world itself seemed to be rattling and shaking loudly and wildly, and my mother yelling over the noise to "Hang on to my hand!". The porter stopped by our "drawing room" several times a day to see if we needed anything. I thought the porters were wonderful men. Other passengers were friendly, helpful, and kind, and one portly gent in the smoking car slipped the ring from his cigar onto my thumb. It was beautiful! Even then, at seven, I was proud to be on a train with all of our service men and women who were off to training or off to war... or probably some of them, if they were injured, coming home. I knew they were brave, good young men and women.
Back in California a year or so later, I remember going to the nearby Army hospital for some kind of medical test (I was an Army dependant though we didn't live on an Army post). We passed soldiers down a long hall on the way to the doctor's office. On the left, there was a row of chairs backed up to the windows and in one chair sat a young man who shook violently and continuously. My mother explained that he was shell-shocked. Another young man passed us in the hall. From his face hung a cord that draped down to his chest. My mother explained that skin was being grafted to his injured face. I was eight by then and asked a lot of questions. Thankfully, my mother answered them honestly and calmly. Even so, I will never forget those sights. The tone of her voice when explaining this to me made it clear to me that she had the utmost respect for their courage, and I did too. We knew what heroes and heroines were and these boys were among the many.
Maybe this will help you understand, a little, how I can say that while war is horrible, sometimes it is unavoidable and when good people come together to fight for life and freedom, that life and freedom can be preserved for all of us and "the bad guys" can be stopped. It is real, painful, horrific, and no one wants it but avoiding it can be at an even more huge cost.
We got a taste, yesterday, of that
huge cost and will be paying it for a long time.
I would hate to see us allow what all those brave men and women preserved at such cost to them, and we have so richly enjoyed, be given away because we are too blind and too lacking in wisdom and courage to save it. This is not a movie that ends and we go home and decide whether it was worth the money or not. It's real.
This probably does not need to be said, but I'll say it just to be sure you know what I believe and pray for:
We can not and must not take out our anger on anyone just because they have a name or a look that reminds us of a group we strongly suspect is responsible. We can, and must, allow this task to be accomplished with wisdom and certainty that those who are responsible are the ones who are punished, no one else.
Find the wisdom and courage that surely is in you. We can be heroic and we can protect and keep our lives and freedom and help the rest of the world to also keep, or regain, theirs.... the birthright of all human beings.
We, too, are capable of being a "Greatest Generation" as were our WWII fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, and for some.. great grandfathers and great grandmothers.
Thanks for reading this and most
of all for being good and decent human beings.
My prayers for the safety of your loved ones today, and for a quick and certain stop to terrorism everywhere. In memory of September 11, 2001.
If We Must
Hate, Make it Terrorism that We Hate
© 1994 - 2001 Jinny Brown