On this, the most patriotic day of the year, I reflect on the most patriotic time of my life, World War II.
I was eleven when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The nation immediately united behind the war effort. With 14 to 16-million Americans in the armed forces, just about everyone had someone in potential harms way. Not so now. Few have a friend or relative in the services. A relatively small minority is bearing the sacrifice as the rest watch.
Both my brother Elbert and brother-in-law Jack Gibson were drafted. Jack, a machine-gunner, was wounded a few days after landing at Normandy, and awarded a Purple Heart medal. My sister Betty made her first trip out of the South when she took trains to Wisconsin to see Jack a few days before he went overseas.
Elbert, who was younger than Jack, was drafted near the war’s end. He was in the UK, heading for France when Germany surrendered. He drove a Jeep for a lieutenant around Germany looking for the lieutenant’s German relatives. Before he shipped overseas, my mother decided she and 13-year-old me would visit him in Joplin, MO, where he was getting Signal Corps training.
What an adventure that was for untraveled me. The railroads had every car that would roll in service. With gasoline rationing, you took a train or bus, especially on a long trip. When we boarded the train in Columbus, there was only one seat available. I had no seat from Columbus to Birmingham, sitting in other folk’s seats when they would go to the restroom or to smoke. We did get seats when we had lunch in the diner, my first diner experience. I loved it.
There were no hotel rooms available in Joplin, but people in private homes rented rooms to visitors like us. My mom and dad did the same thing, renting out a room to Ft. Benning soldiers and their wives. One couple had a little girl. She was meaner than any boy I knew, and I couldn’t hit her becaused she was a girl. Wanting to keep their room, her parents tried to make it up to me by taking me to a movie with the three of them. It helped.
Keeping everyone involved in the war effort, we were encouraged to buy war bonds and stamps. Kids like me would buy dime stamps and put them in a book that we could cash in or use toward buying a $25 bond when the book was filled. Folks also saved and took tin cans, old tires and scrap paper to collection centers to be recycled to make things for the armed forces. Just about everyone I knew did it. As a Boy Scout, I remember riding in the back of a truck, going door to door to pick up scrap paper people were saving.
Yes, it was a very different time and a very different war. Today, people do respect and support our troops, even though most are war weary and want us out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. But, there is definitely not the involvement and the sharing of the sacrifice as there was then.