Anchor Sunday School Class
by Bob Marsh
Put Meaning to Memorial
Even at the tender age of 9, some events are burned into one’s memory bank, never ceasing to disturb and even torment. It was a nondescript Sunday morning in Jackson, Mississippi, for some reason we were not going to Sunday School, but going to visit some of my parent’s closest friends. The Duckworth family lived somewhere in North Jackson, 15 minutes from our West Jackson Buena Vista home. I sensed that something significant had taken place, for my parents, and then the Duckworths were obviously upset about the news blaring out on WJDX. I heard my mother for the first time ever use the word DAMN in referring to some country named “Japan.” This 9 year old boy knew nothing about that country, but thought it was the country where Fu Man Chu, the hero in some of my favorite Saturday afternoon movies we saw at the Buck theater. But Fu Man Chu was a good guy, a smart Japanese detective who always caught the bad guy. Why would my mother use DAMN to describe his country? Well, found out Fu Man Chu was Chinese, not Japanese, but who among my peers would know the difference. Mother and the Duckworths were upset and “cussin” the Japanese on this December 7th, 1941 Sunday morning because they had bombed Pearl Harbor, whatever that was. What did that mean? It really did not matter to me, for I was eager to get back to West Jackson and meet my friends for an afternoon touch football game we would play in the wide Buena Vista Boulevard. Whatever the problem was bothering the “grownups” would be taken care of by them. On with life as usual. Little did I know that life would never be “usual” again.
For the next four years I grew up learning the facts and many of the consequences of World War II. We quickly learned about “ration coupons,” Victory Gardens, limited access to shoes, footballs, baseballs, anything containing rubber or metal. Sugar and butter were either rationed or “fake butter” became common. We learned when the news would come on the radio (who even had heard of TV?), and we all gathered around it to hear about places such as France, Germany, Russia, Philippines, and a host of far aware unknown countries. We saw the young men, and women, in Jackson leave our comfortable city to travel far away to fight some bad people we had never heard of, like “NAZI,” “HITLER,” MUSSOLINI,” AND “TOJO.” We began to learn more and more through the Saturday afternoon Buck Theater’s news reels. I remember my mother’s going with me to see a Buck Jones movie, which she never did. Found out later that she wanted to monitor the news reels, and on this day, there were scenes she obviously did not want me to see, for she grabbed my head and pulled me down so I could not see what was being shown. I later discovered it was about some camp called Auschwitz. (It would be years later when Myra and I were living in Berlin that I learned the stark horrors of this death camp, and saw other “camps” such as Dachau and the all too overlooked Flossenburg, where among many others a young 39 year old Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged a few days before Germany surrendered. To this day I cannot comprehend how such truculent and maniacal terror could be unleashed by human beings on fellow human beings!!!).
I can almost understand why some of our German friends refuse to discuss World War II, but I insist that it must never be rationalized or dismissed as irrelevant to their generation. To their credit, the Germans we know have admitted the stupidity and inhumanity, and now moved on to build a strong nation.
As a 9 year old who would live through 4 years of WORLD WAR II, I saw and heard things that cannot be erased from my memory. Mickey Duckworth, the Duckworth’s oldest child, was shot down over Germany and spent 2 years in a concentration camp. Gold Stars began to be seen in the windows of West Jackson. I can never forget the morning my parents called me into their bedroom where my father told me that his brother Joe, my favorite uncle, the uncle who picked me up when I fell off the wall at George School, had crashed in a plane and died. The funeral was an occasion of sorrow and outpouring of anger that this stupid war was doing what happened to Uncle Joe to countless other men, devastating too many families. We listened to commentators tell us about the invasion of Italy, the return to the Philippines by someone named MacArthur, some powerful weapon called an ATOMIC BOMB, and how it destroyed two Japanese cities, Jackson was where Dutch pilots came to train, where there was an ORDINANCE PLANT, whatever that was, and then on May 8, 1945 I found my father in the attic installing (an attic fan, yelled to him “what does VE mean?” Victory in Europe was the reply, but it was apparent to me that he already knew that Hitler and Mussolini had died, the Germans finally surrendered unconditionally, and now it was just a matter of getting Japan to do the same.
This was not an easy task, for it appeared that they were determined to resist the coming land invasion of Allied forces and fight to the death. It was estimated by the Truman administration that there would be over one million casualties. President Truman made the difficult decision to “let’s get this horrible war over with,” and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 forced the Japanese military to surrender unconditionally on September 2nd. The country was ecstatic with joy, celebrations went on for days, and the country began the long and arduous journey of recovery, rebuilding, and restoring Europe and Japan. As World War II children, we sang “Let Us Always Remember!” What is called MEMORIAL DAY must have meaning to save it from being just another “holiday” with no meaning. And you know what?Might be good for our country to dust off that old WWII song, sing it loudly and drown out the raucous noise of political nonsense defining the USA.
Maybe requiring every American to view the movie THE LONGEST DAY (assuming that we know what that day was about), or at least watch the first 15 minutes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, just maybe it would prompt us to let MEMORIAL DAY be a time to REMEMBER AND BE GRATEFUL. I could wish that every beach on this Memorial Day had a sign saying YOU CAN COME SAFELY TO THIS BEACH BECAUSE HUNDREDS OF FINE YOUNG MEN DIED ON ANOTHER BEACH! FREEDOM THAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED IS NOT FREE. REMEMBER THAT!!!
Enjoy the day. Just never forget why we are free to enjoy it!