So, it’s Memorial Day weekend, and hotter than blazes here in the Sunshine State. A few days back I saw my 94-year-old neighbor Angelo sitting out front, and I took a break from my morning walk to chat. Angelo doesn’t walk around the neighborhood any more out of deference to his daughter-in-law’s wishes. He fell about a year ago and she doesn’t think it’s safe for him to be out on the street, but he’ll sit out front and greet the passers-by.
I mentioned that it’d been VE Day a couple of weeks back, and I said that I’d wondered how he’d celebrated on May 8, 1945. He paused for a moment, and then he said that since they didn’t have any fireworks they shot up dozens of flares. At the time Angelo was stationed near Seattle training on the new B-29s in preparation for the anticipated invasion of Japan. However, from April thru November, 1944, his unit the 489th Bomb Group was at RAF Halesworth in Suffolk in England with the 8th Air Force. He’d survived 22 missions as the ball-turret gunner on a B-24 Liberator. The War was over in Europe and he’d survived. However, the 489th had been redeployed to the Pacific Northwest for training when THE War finally ended on August 15.
It’s sobering to think that perhaps Angelo and a million other young Americans were saved because earlier in August several hundred-thousand Japanese were incinerated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s one of those painful truths that we don’t like to dwell on. When THE War ended I was an infant, but I still have very vivid memories of the immediate post-war years, and what an absorbing preoccupation those terrible years were for both my parent’s generation, and my generation as well. About 1946-47, I recall looking at war related pics in a magazine and saying to my mother, “Will the Japs bomb here?” I recall that incident and those images like it was yesterday. And, of course, every picky-eater kid in my generation was told, “Clean up your plate, because the kids in Europe are starving and eating out of garbage cans.” And it’s true, they were.
I watch all the documentaries over and over on The History Channel, H2, The Military History Channel, etc. I’m sure I watch all that carnage way too much. Being basically a depressive I’m not sure why I expose my brain to more painful images. Other than the delirious crowds in Times Square and Trafalgar Square on VE Day there’s not much to rejoice about. Well, I have to confess it does give me a tickle to watch any of the four or five documentaries on the battle of Midway. Seeing Adm. Spruance’s dive bombers send four Jap carriers into the depths of the Pacific is always a pleasure—I’m sure in a strict Christian sense, a very evil pleasure.
It’s estimated that between 1939 and 1945, sixty million people died world-wide as the result of THE War. All of our recent conflicts, all of the wars and rumors of wars that so preoccupy our media combined are chickenfeed when compared to the numbers of THE War. Sometimes thinking about WW-II helps put things in perspective. Just seeing the footage on the liberation of Buchenwald is jaw-dropping. And if there is such a thing, it was a just war. It was not optional—all Western civilization and our Christian heritage stood in the balance.
I saw again yesterday, a few seconds of footage that always brings tears to my eyes. On Okinawa a child not more than two, shaking like a leaf, is being given a drink out of a canteen by a U.S. Marine who’d stooped down to minister to this babe for a moment. I’ve seen that footage at least a half-dozen times, and for me that sums up the whole madness of war. It is difficult to watch these documentaries and still belive in God; and it is equally difficult to not believe in God. It is the human dilemma.
Angelo’s parting words to me were, “I’ve got no problems. I’ve been blessed. I’ve got no problems. Have a good day my friend.”