When I was ten, my dad became the pastor of a little church that met in a VFW Hall in Portland, Oregon. This was 1957-58, so both WWII and Korea were not-so-distant memories for my parents and others of their generation.
I, on the other hand, did not live during any part of WWII, and Korea was something I didn’t really understand. I do now, although I have to admit that I have NEVER understood how eating the piece of disgusting liver on my plate would help some starving Korean orphan. What would my folks do? Send the liver to Korea?
I didn’t even know what “VFW” meant until I asked my dad. Veterans of Foreign Wars. Oh. That explained all the different flags and banners, and photos and paintings that covered the walls.
I remember studying all those things from my chair during the services. If Dad noticed that my gaze was on the pictures and not on him, he never said anything. I was completely fascinated by all that I saw there, though it had nothing much to do with what we were doing.
Maybe that’s when my interest in history first ignited. I’m not sure. What I do know is that all of the banners and displays left a deep impression on my mind, and I started reading books that centered especially on WWII. As time passed, I started reading about the Civil War as well, and that war gave WWII some heavy competition in my interests.
What I came away with, once the church moved into a real church building, was that I was glad we met in that VFW long enough for me to begin to understand the importance of the people who fought, down through the years, for our freedom. Memorial Day is specifically to remember those who never made it home, except in a coffin. Some are still at the bottom of an ocean, or simply dissolved into the mists of overwhelming tank and canon fire. Some of them were so young.
They were, of course, not battle-hardened old-timers, and many of them died as their feet hit the sand at Normandy. Some of them probably hadn’t even started shaving. They were younger than some of my grandsons are.
It is these, and others who fought all around the world in the cause of democracy against totalitarian governments that wanted world domination.
Kamala Harris has said that veterans are NOT heroes, they were simply doing their jobs. She said that the best thing they could do, instead of being a drain on the economy, was to just get a job.
I worked with some soldiers in my counseling office. Some of them had wounds that no one could see. Those were the hardest ones to help, because they didn’t want to talk about what they had experienced.
My dad was like that. I’ve probably written before about how, in the late 50s, he wanted to watch the TV show Run Silent, Run Deep, starring Lloyd Bridges. He’d spent the war in a submarine, so the show had a particular appeal for him. But somewhere during the program, he’d get up and disappear until it was over. Whenever there were depth charges, or the order to Dive! Dive! Dive!, we could be pretty sure he had some other important business to deal with. He never said much about it, though. He was never wounded in enemy fire. The depth charges were as close as he came. Later, when his heart was giving out on him and he was put on morphine, he hallucinated about the war. Some of it we knew hadn’t happened to him, because he wasn’t in the areas where the action took place. But some of it was real, and so distressing that my mom asked that he not be put on morphine at all. Someone either didn’t see that on his chart, or ignored it. That was the time he “saw” some vets charging into the hospital ward and shooting up the place, grabbing medications from the pharmacy. I think that was the time he pulled out his IV’s and tried to stop those soldiers. It took some effort to get him back to bed and hooked up to his meds.
We’ll never know what went through the minds of so many thousands of soldiers as they faced death, capture, mutilation. I’m sure they had fears. Who wouldn’t?
I will tell you this, though. They were heroes then, and they’re still heroes today. Far more heroic than anyone sitting in a plushy office and exercising powers that those soldiers died to keep from coming to be part of our government.
It is rare that I go political on this blog, I won’t apologize for it. I’m only one generation away from the generation that fought WWII and the evil that the Axis powers represented. We need to think about that today as we honor those who died in the cause of freedom.