Wednesday, June 6


I'm not much of a flag waver (though I know the words to lots of patriotic songs from the US and other nations), and in this time of a disastrous and immoral war it's all too easy to slip into a cynical attitude towards all things military. But much as I'd like to say that all wars are wrong, I have to accept that sometimes they are necessary. Hitler had to be stopped, for example. Today is the anniversary of D-Day and the landing of Allied troops on the beaches at Normandy, a brave and brilliant day that changed the course of World War II in Europe and the course of history. Now that the generation that accomplished the Allied victory is dying by the hundreds every day, it's important that young people and all of us appreciate what they did.
This spring a World War II veteran of Normandy addressed the school in chapel. As he told us how the operation proceeded, from the careful and stealthy preparations to its outcome, we were vicariously, though safely, there. No one who listened will forget his account. His presence among us was a living treasure, a voice from a generation that's almost gone. Once all the veterans of that war are gone, will the war become a dusty subject in a textbook? Even the Vietnam war, so vivid to many of my generation, is almost a ho-hum subject for today's teenagers, just a part of "History."
My father, whose dogtags are shown here, was a Conscientious Objector in the war, because he was a Quaker. He served in the Army Air Force as a radio operator flying supplies over "the Hump" in Burma to allies in China. My mother says that it bothered him that because of his CO status he couldn't become an officer, but neither could he ignore his upbringing. He left for India before I was born and came back in June, 1945. I have his tags, and I have several notebooks of his letters to my mother, written in fountain pen on onion skin paper. I've tried reading them but always get stalled, both because they are so emotional and because they are also somewhat repetitive because he wasn't allowed to give any details of what was going on. Most of the letters I've read so far talk of his memories of good times he and she had during their courtship, questions about his baby daughter, and fantasies about where he would like to be with his bride and the wonderful times they will have when he returns.
This summer I will approach the letters again and also will try to learn more about his Burma experiences. Unfortunately, I grew up in a family that seldom talked about anything -- Lake Wobegon is a lot like Yankee Rhode Island -- and so I now feel the need to learn what I can.
People need to tell their stories and pass along to the younger generations what came before. One thing that gives me hope that the stories won't be lost is the work of novelists, like Britain's Mal Peet, whose novel Tamar tells a particular story of World War II and relates it to a present-day teenage girl whose father was in the war. We need to listen to the remaining veterans of that war, as long as some of them are alive, and those who have heard their stories have to pass them on however they can.

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