Today – we remember the Day That Will Live In Infamy, Pearl Harbor Day. The WWII veterans are getting older, and their numbers are shrinking by the day. One of the veterans is my own father, who was a young man when he went to war after Pearl Harbor.
I spent a December 7 on the Mall a couple of years ago, wandering around the World War II Memorial, and listened to the stories. I’ve heard stories about the USCG Spencer, my father’s ship (and a pretty famous one) all my life, but only the “funny” stories, the ones about his buddies doing something dumb, or the time he was allowed ashore after he found out his Army Captain’s big brother was somewhere there near the port in the Philippines; ostensibly to “get the mail”… for a couple of days!
Listening to the stories on the Mall that day, watching the faces of the young men and women in uniform who were standing at parade rest while they listened to the white-haired man speak matter of factly about Guadalcanal and the hell he lived through; the old man sitting and reminiscing about Bataan and the men who died on that march; the woman softly remembering her nursing career on board a Mercy ship, reminded those of us there on the Mall that WWII is not an Audie Murphy movie! I’ve been privileged to be along with a group of veterans during an Honor Flight and heard their voices catch in their throats, after all these decades, when they remember the friends they left behind. There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.
December 7th changed the world as the United States knew it permanently. The “it’s not our war” attitude changed and a huge wave of patriotism engulfed the country. According to WWII veterans, flags appeared on every house, the lines went around the block from the recruiting offices, everyone contributed, everyone sacrificed. During WWII, every family had a man (and some a woman) in uniform, or knew the kid down the street who had been wounded, knew the family who had lost a son or a brother. Blue Star flags hung on the front doors on every block and everyone mourned when the blue star was replaced with a Gold Star. The families who had lost their service-member were comforted by their neighbors. There were paper drives, pot and pan drives, women gave up their stockings, there were meatless Mondays, wheatless Wednesdays. The public sacrificed.
Shall we contrast that attitude and reality with our country after 9/11? Less than 1% of the country has sacrificed anything for two wars that began 10 years ago. Less than 1% of families in this country have someone in uniform. Many people I talk to don’t know anyone in the military and have no idea what this past 10 years has been like.
They get their information from reunion shows or even from the Lifetime TV show Army Wives. They stick a magnet on the back of the car and consider that their support, or they ask a military spouse political questions while she is half sick with worry at the latest reports of casualties in Afghanistan.
I wouldn’t categorize EITHER as support, would you? We were told to go shopping, taxes were cut , and any suggestion of sacrificing was greeted with laughter or calls of “too much government, this is MINE, MINE, MINE”… Lots of flag waving, photo ops with anyone in a uniform, but actual support has been lacking or unfocused.
Today – if you have a WWII vet in the family, sit down with a recording device – ask him or her about what it was like. Their stories are being lost — listen to the stories of those who stayed at home. And realize what sacrifice really means.
Photo: courtesy of Steven Francis Photography and the author.