Musing from the Hill, May 23, 2012
World War I, the war to end all wars, has become almost lost in the mists of time. How real it was to those involved so long ago. Now donations are being sought for vets of World War II so that they might visit the museum in Washington, D.C.
When I was young we often chanted World War I songs lyrics such as "I'm Capt. Jenks of the horse marines and I feed my horse on corn and beans," or "The first Marine went over the top, parley vous. The second marine went over the top, parley vous. The Scotch Marine went over the top, because he heard a penny drop."
The war was still real to our parents and remember by us. Thousands of our wonderful young men who went willingly off to war singing, "The Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming and we won’t be back ‘till it’s over, over there" never did come back. If one avoided being shot, trenches were often wet and muddy and hundreds died from exposure. Those who did survive often returned wounded or suffered from “shell-shock”.
It seems humanity cannot avoid conflict. My mother remembered waving a tiny American flag and yelling, “Hooray for Dewey.” My grandfather knew a man who had been a drummer boy in the Civil War — our deadliest conflict. It took years but our country finally healed. Or has it? In 1917, tiny fragments of both the Union and Confederate armies marched together on Memorial Day in Washington, D.C.
How well my generation remembers WWII. Our brothers, husbands and friends fought and died or came back wounded. The entire country was involved. Rationing, victory gardens, Rosie the Riveter, civilian airplane spotters. My 16-year-old brother rushed to the Methodist church tower when the air raid sirens went off. We lived in New Jersey across from the port of Philadelphia. Down came the black out curtains, out went all the lights, including street lights. My mother ran to the first aid station. My soon to be husband was in the mosquito filled marshes of the Delaware River manning an anti-aircraft gun. I, the eldest girl, was in charge at home of a ten years younger little sister with help from a sister two years younger. My older brother, Tom, soon to be in charge of a lab at Sperry Gyroscope in New York lived with a near-by aunt and uncle. We all were truly involved in WW II.
Since the beginning of time men have fought. Countries rise and fall. It has been ever thus — man’s inhumanity to man.