a life well lived

Monday, May 26, 2014

the last "good" war 05/28/00

Today could have been rough going - John & Elsa were away from noon and into the early evening.  Happily, longtime sidekick Diane Alden Coffin stopped by with her daughter, Linda.  Linda - who with her husband, Tom, manages one of Ted Turner's ranches out west - is visiting for a couple weeks.  It was so lovely to have a visit from a dear gal I have known since she was born.

Being alone for quite a spell gave me some time to think over tonight's posting on World War II, which is now referred to as the last "good " war, or the last war that America entered because our national interests were directly attacked.

It is hard in this age of online news and 24-hour all-news stations to imagine how we heard about the "day that will live in infamy."  Pete and I were getting ready to go out.  The radio was on.  The broadcast was interrupted for a one-sentence announcement.  Pete came in from the other room.  "Did you hear what I heard?"  I looked at him and nodded.

He repeated that simple announcement: "Japanese warplanes have attacked the naval station at Pearl Harbor."  Strange as it seems today, that was the only announcement I remember hearing until President Roosevelt spoke that night.

England, of course, had been at war since 1939  Because the USA was technically neutral, there was little we could do, at least until they came up with the lend-lease idea. 

I believe that sometimes we can clearly glimpse in history the hand of God.  WW II had two instances of that - the Battle of Britain and Hitler's nutty decision to open a second front.  Both defied any reason.

The British and their Commonwealth allies were nothing short of miraculous. Alone, they really did keep the vastly superior Nazi war machine at bay.

They certainly had the right man at the right time - actually, two men and one peerless woman.  Winston Churchill (1/2 American!) and King George – and his amazing consort, Queen Elizabeth. 

Everyone knows how incredible Churchill was, but the King & Queen were every inch as powerful an image as that bull dog of a man.  In spite of pleas from the government and their own people, they would not budge from London.  Queen Elizabeth told people who criticized their decision to sit tight, “I could never look the East Enders in the eye” if they left London.

Between the two of them and Churchill - and the British people - Hitler did not have a chance.   

Imagine how different things might have been if King George's brother, "David," who rather liked Hitler and was a far different sort of man than his brother, had not renounced his crown for the "woman he loved."  "Bertie" did not even want to be king – he dreaded the thought.  Thank goodness he was.  There's that Hand again! 

Pete was 30 when the war was declared, so he wasn't called up at that time.  He was called up in 1944, when the Allies were getting ready for what would be the Battle of the Bulge and needed "cannon fodder" for infantry   

The day that Pete went to the enlistment office, I gave him a copy of Heaven and Hell ;  today, I took that slim volume of the Writings out of my bookcase, its spine papers falling apart with age, and opened it up.  There, between the end pages, was the little note I had included 56 years ago ~  "Dearest,  Whether we use this 'here' or you use it over 'there,' I hope it will be a source of help and encouragement.  With all my love, Kay"

Imagine my response when he came back later, looking strange, a combination of dejection and relief.  When he took the physical, the army doctor's discovered he had a rheumatic heart which would not cause him any problems in civilian life but which would land him in a hospital within a month if he became a soldier.

If you know the movie, It's a Wonderful Life,  then you will know what I mean when I say that Pete was pretty much like George Bailey in the movie - kept busy with all sorts of war-related activities, including air raid warden.

Air raid alerts - they were an experience.  One time, I was visiting my best friend, Ellen Lear, in Philadelphia (it was Ellen's southern mother who so scandalized her proper Philadelphia in-laws around 1910 by sitting by the river).  I was just putting on my coat when the red alert sounded.  I looked at Ellen and she looked at me and I took off my coat.  No trains would be running for some time and even if they were, there would be no way for me to get to the station during a blackout.  Pete had to take care of Peter and Mike that night all by himself.  I was hoping & praying there would not be an air alert in Bryn Athyn - Mike was two at the time and Peter was six.

I was pregnant with Mim when Pete was called up.  In fact, there was an air raid drill the night I started my labor pains.  The hospital was in black out. The hospital staff were making rounds with flashlights!   The staff was terrified to learn it was my 3rd pregancy.  The nurse said, "My God!  The lights are out and you will probably be delivering any minute!!"  I assured her that I take a long time and she did not need to worry.  Sure enough, the lights were on long before our little missy made her debut.

Parents, wives, sweethearts, siblings and friends held their breath and prayed for safe returns.  One young Bryn Athyn wife was bitterly complaining to an older woman because her husband had been away so long.  The older woman could bear it no longer and snapped at her, "At least you KNOW where he is – plenty of these women have no idea where their men are serving and are not allowed to get letters from them."

Our little community of Bryn Athyn had its share of loss.  Richard Walter and Justin Davis stand out and I am sure there are others I will remember later.  The pall that laid across the community with news of each injury or death is impossible to describe and I hope none of you ever have to understand what I mean.

How do the words to "Taps" go?  I only remember - "Fading light dims the sight, from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.  Day is done, gone the sun..."  Can't remember the rest.

The media recently labeled my generation the "greatest generation" for how we faced the depression and served in the war.  I don't know that I would call us that.  We did what had to be done, it was that simple.  History runs in cycles.  It will happen again, we will be called to arms once more.  There better be another "greatest generation" ready to shoulder the fight or that might turn out to be the last war, period.

Now, I remember the rest of the words, or I think I do - "God is nigh"  If those aren't the last words, they should be.   

Love to you all ~ Grammie Kay

No comments:

Post a Comment