|My father saluting in his Army Air Corps uniform.
I'm not sure where this picture was taken.
Memorial Day was originally created to honor the men who died during the Civil War. New York was the first state to recognize Memorial Day. By 1890, all of the northern states celebrated it, but the south refused to recognize the day until World War I, when the holiday changed from honoring the Civil War dead to those who gave their life during any war.
While all the southern states now observe Memorial Day to honor our fallen soldiers, several southern states have adopted a separate holiday to honor the Confederates who died during the Civil War (or the War of Northern aggression, as it's called south of the Mason Dixon line). Texas honors the Confederate soldiers on January 19th. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi honors them on April 26th, South Carolina on May 19th, and Louisiana and Tennessee honor them on June 3rd, Jefferson Davis' birthday.
Today is seems that many Americans, especially the younger ones, think of Memorial Day as simply the unofficial start of summer and a three-day weekend the party.
My parents were older and closer to the age my friends' grandparents (my oldest brother is only seven years younger than my boyfriend's mother). Being part of The Greatest Generation, my parents had enormous respect for what Memorial Day stands for. My mother knew many soldiers who never came home from war, and my father fought in the Philippines during World War II.
My father was an airplane mechanic during the war. He was not issued a rifle or combat boots when he first got to the Philippines ... his job was to keep the planes in good repair and it was the responsibility of other soldiers to protect the unarmed airplane mechanics. In August of 1945, he was issued a rifle and combat boots, and put on one of the many battleships heading to Japan in anticipation of a ground invasion. August 9th, before the second bomb was dropped, he wrote a letter home. The men aboard the ship knew a new type of bomb, the atomic bomb, had been dropped on Japan. According to his letter, that's all everyone was talking about. They had been listening to radio broadcasts from home and noted that the newsmen had a hard time describing it. Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, and Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th. On August 15th, Japan surrendered.
|Daddy's letter home, written August 9, 1945.
The second bomb was dropped the day my father wrote a letter home. By the time they sailed into port in Tokyo, Japan had surrendered. I guess it's a good thing, too, because I might not be here if our soldiers had to go in on foot and fight the Japanese on their own land. Daddy didn't talk about his war experience until the months just before his death, so don't know how long my father stayed on the island of Japan, but he described it as a wasteland. I never thought to ask if he visited Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
While he was in the Philippines, the soldiers in his company "adopted" a local twelve year old boy who had lost both both of his parents to the war. They weren't supposed to, but they hid the boy in their barracks, sharing their rations, chocolates, and packages from home with him. The boy (I've forgotten his name), shined their shoes and did little favors for the soldiers to thank them for their kindness. When they were ordered to sail from the Philippines to Japan, the men had to leave the boy behind. My father cried when he told of his anguish at leaving this young orphan behind. The fate of that boy haunted my father the rest of his life. I'd give anything if I could remember his name and find out what happened to him. That little boy would be around 81 years old today, and it's possible he's still alive. If we had had the internet before my father passed away, I could have researched it when the story and the child's name was fresh in my memory. I can't forget about the boy either. I, too, wonder at his fate, and hope that he made it into adulthood, telling his wife and children of the kindness of the American soldiers who sheltered and protected him for several years.
|My handsome Daddy, in his Army Air Corps uniform.
I placed a flag on my father's grave yesterday, as I do every year. I also placed a flag on my brother's grave. He didn't die during war, but he served in the Army, and I wanted him to have a flag, too.
Thank you, Daddy, for giving up over three years of your life to keep America safe.
Thank you to all of the soldiers who served in every war and armed conflict.
And a special, heart-felt thank you to those who gave their lives so that their fellow countrymen could continue to live free and safe in the land that we call home.