Let us pause and remember

Published 2:36 pm Friday, May 22, 2009

I pulled a red wagon through the neighborhoods, knocking on doors asking folks for their old newspapers, empty tin cans (without tops, washed and cleaned), and rinsed and empty glass pop bottles.

The nation was at war, and the newspapers, I was told, helped make parachutes for the boys jumping into harm’s way in Europe and in the Pacific theaters.

The tin cans and empty glass bottles probably were reused to make war materials—tanks, planes, guns, ships etc…

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It was the early 1940s, and our nation was at war, still reeling from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Collecting papers, tin cans, empty bottles at least was something a 6-year-old could do to help with the war effort.

But, as a first-grader, what did I know of worldly conflicts, except today these memories give pause this Memorial Day weekend, to remember those who have died in our nation’s service in all of our wars.

In our family, we lost no member due to the war. I don’t know why, but Dad, at 30, did not participate, but his brother, Bob, did, in the Army Air Corps. Like all mothers who sent a son into the service of his country, my grandmother placed a star in her front window.

My father-in-law was in New Guinea, a munitions supply sergeant who was awarded a Purple Heart and received several letters of commendation for the manner in which he carried out his duties.

Faye’s dad, Julian Dockery, spent his war years in Guam as a medical corpsman.

There were several other things I remembered about this time. Pulling the red wagon through the neighborhoods, and collecting items to help fight the war, was a somewhat profitable endeavor. If I remember, cashing in old newspapers brought 5 cents a pound.

We first-graders each Monday would bring in our money, and Miss Clark would hand out our war bond booklets. In return for cash, she would give us stamps, which we would glue into the pamphlet. Fill in all the blanks in the pamphlet with your stamps, and you received a $25 war bond.

We also practiced in air raid drills at Liberty Elementary School in Easton, Pa. The air raid alarm would sound, practice only of course, and we would get down on our knees in the hallways and cover our heads. Much like the tornado drills practiced in local schools today.

Then there were the coupons. Some for food and some for gas. We all had to conserve and sacrifice for the boys overseas.

Also during the war years, my parents shared a river cabin with another couple. The cabin, actually was more like a shack, where it looked out over the Delaware River in an area on the Jersey side with absolutely no modern conveniences. Deep in the woods, and far off the highway, the shack had no running water, no electricity and no indoor plumbing. We cooked on a kerosene stove, kept food cool in a real ice box, and read books in the evening by lantern light, and used the two holer out back. We spent entire summers there and loved every day of it, realizing today that many people can relate to those amenities as everyday living.

Across the river on the Pennsy side we watched the freight trains hauling war materials—tanks, trucks, jeeps, cannon—train after train, day after day. Thinking about it today, the trains probably were heading for the ports in Philadelphia, loading cargo onto ships bound for Europe.

We were at the cabin (shack) that summer when news quickly circulated among all the cabins (shacks) along the river that Japan had surrendered. All us kids jumped into our rowboats and canoes, paddled up and down the river, banging on pots and pans and shouting, “The war is over! The war is over!”

Memorial Day didn’t come out of World War II. There is no exact beginning point where it began, but there were movements in the South soon after the Civil War when various women’s groups began decorating graves of Confederate dead.

The day was officially proclaimed on May 5,1868, by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, then first observed on May 30 of the same year when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Most states today recognize Memorial Day though several southern states still have a Civil War remembrance on different days from January to April.

Many people believe Memorial Day has fallen on hard times, with fewer and fewer people remembering its true meaning. Ceremonies and parades have dwindled on this day since Congress made it a three-day federal weekend being observed now on the last Monday in May.

We party.

You don’t have to attend ceremonies or organize a parade on Monday, but you can participate in the “National Moment of Remembrance,” when at 3 p.m., we are asked to pause for a moment, hear the sound of taps in our minds, and out of respect, remember our fallen who gave their last full measure of their being, their lives for their country.

Dad lived until he was 59, passing away 37 years ago, believe it or not, on Memorial Day weekend.

Unscathed from the war, Uncle Bob made a career out of the Army Air Corps, which subsequently became the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a chief warrant officer after 20 years.

My father-in-law returned with his Purple Heart, essentially unscathed, to his home and job in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and resumed his life as a part-time gentleman farmer and full-time patient attendant in the local VA hospital.

Julian Dockery returned unscathed, and resumed his career as secretary treasurer of the Tuscaloosa VA Credit Union, then passing at the age of 38 from cancer.

At the end of the war, my grandmother, along with thousands of other mothers like her, took down the star from her front window, joyful that her son survived.

On Monday at 3 p.m., let us remember those heroes who have fallen from all our wars, and especially too those mothers whose star still hangs in front windows all across America.

Lest we forget (For The Fallen).