There are really no words to describe my feelings and probably the feelings of many widows of World War II veterans as we contemplate Veterans Day, 2011 on 11-11-11!
They tell me that over 1000 WWII veterans are dying daily now. Those living are in their late eighties or nineties. But to me they are still young men like my grandson, Josh, who is serving in the Army now at Fort Benning after a year in Iraq and another in Germany.
The photo below is of Cpt. Joshua Hearn holding the hand of his little daughter, Emma, as they walk away from the Cemetery where his friend and fellow soldier, Cpt. Kyle Comfort, was laid to rest. Captain Comfort was killed in the Helmand Province of Afganistan on May 2, 2010.
This story of Captain Comfort's death in 2010 brings tears to my eyes. He reminds us of the "greatness of this generation" of soldiers.
Comfort and his troups were out on patrol. One of the privates stepped on a mine. Kyle saw it and pushed the private to safety taking the blast of the IED himself. He managed to pull himself out of the hole that has been created by the blast...crawling on his elbows because his legs were blown off. His troops said their Captian yelled, "They got my legs but I'm okay." They got him on an evacuation helicopter, but he bled to death within 15 minutes of the blast. Captian Kyle Comfort left a wife and a six month old daughter.
Looking back to 1941 when I was 18, the World War II veterans are still, to me, those idealistic, brave, vital, young soldiers who willingly went off to war after the Pearl Harbor Attack believing they were helping to maintain the safety and freedom of their families. Some were willing to serve in spite of great personal sacrifice. They were certainly a part of one of the greatest generations in our country’s history.
Four of my school friends were killed in WWII: May God bless their memory as we continue to recognize their sacrifice made in 1943 and 1944: James Homer Cook was an airplane pilot whose airplane was shot down in the South Pacific on March 17, 1944.
Quinton " Red "Cole was killed fighting the enemy in Italy on March 9, 1944. Carroll Adams was killed in Frances July 27, 1944.
J.W, Rye was gave his life in Africa on January 21, 1943.
My brother, Tom (John Thomas Baird), served in the infantry in Europe. He and his wife, Rowena, married just before he went into the Army. Rowena lived with my mother, her new mother-in-law and gave birth to their son Jack Thomas Baird while Tom was away. My brother, Jack (Jackson Irvin Baird), served in the Army Air force in the South Pacific. These are just some of the brave men whom we honor this Veteran’s Day.
When President Roosevelt came on the radio early Sunday morning December 7, 1941 and announced that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, life in the towns and cities of America was forever changed. I vividly remember the terror and anxiety I felt. We’d never before been in war in my lifetime. No one knew what might be next, so days were filled with fear and uncertainty. We were afraid that our mainland would be bombed next.
In the days, weeks, and months that followed, the entire population rallied around the president and our national leadership. Patriotism was strong. Citizens supported whatever the president felt should be done.
The immediate response of our nation to the bombing of Pearl Harbor was somewhat like the national response to the events of September 11, 2001, when everyone pulled together and supported one another. This kind of public response lasted until th end of the war in August of 1945.
We were all uncertain what would happen next and wondered how our individual lives were going to be impacted. Winning the war seemed to be the only focus of the entire population.
Soon the military draft was begun. Women were never drafted, but many volunteered to serve in the WACS and WAVES. Able-bodied young men were eager to sign up. It was the right and patriotic thing to do. They felt a desire, a need, and an obligation to protect their families and their country from threat and to insure our way of life.
My husband Charles got a low draft number. However, before his number came up and he could be drafted, Charles, like many others, opted to volunteer instead so that he could choose his branch of service.
In 1943 Charles and three of his buddies from his hometown chose the Marines, Grover Foster, Charlie Miller and Roy Gunnell. The four of them were sent to Cherry Point, NC. Later they were stationed in San Diego. Charlie Miller was wounded in the battle of Iwo Jima. Although he did live to come home , Charlie was never well again.
These young fathers joined countless others giving years of their lives for the good of their country.
When we learned that Charles was to be shipped to the South Pacific without a furlough, I went out to be with him in San Diego. It was four day train ride crowded with soldiers.
Soon after I arrived at the Marine base, I came down with Scarlet Fever and was quarantined for 21 days in the Naval Hospital. The only way Charles and I saw each other was when he came out to the hospital and sat on a ledge outside my room and talked throught the window. Charles first assignment overseas was in the South Pacific in the Caroline Islands.
Back at home, food and gasoline were in short supply because the nation’s resources were going toward the war effort. The government issued ration books to citizens who then had to use the coupons to get supplies such as sugar and gasoline.
In additon to all the "Bomber Plants,"other plants to build airplanes and supplies needed to wage war sprung up all over the nation. Textile mills in the South switched over to making strong canvas for tents instead of fabrics for civilian clothing. Some of the mills made cord which was used to reinforce tires for military vehicles. Almost all the cotton mills in the South, I am told, switched from making goods for regular civilian use to making needed military supplies.
The focus of daily life was to keep abreast of what was happening “overseas.” I remember reading the newspapers from cover to cover every day to find out what was happening and discussing the events with other adults with whom I came into contact in the course of the day. All ears were tuned to the radio anytime a report or a speech came on. There were great, inspiring, and encouraging speeches by Roosevelt and Churchill.
Every night I sat down and wrote a letter to my Marine. Every morning I dressed my two little girls and walked to the Post Office to mail that letter and see if we had a letter from “Daddy.” We often did. He was a great letter-writer.
My two small children and I lived near my parents-in-law and always stopped by their house with any news from their oldest son. They had two other sons in Service. James was in the Army. Grady Jr. was in the Army Air Frorce.
American citizens spent whatever “free time” they had doing whatever they could to help with the war effort. Some worked for the Red Cross. Patriotic and Christian groups frequently had rallies and services to support the troops and to encourage each other. Oe thing that bothers me about Captian Kyle Comfort's death and the many others reported daily now is that, it seem to be, we, as a nation is not on a wartime basis as we were during World War II.
Finally the war was over. There were community and church celebrations throughout the country. I clearly remember the celebration service our community held. The entire community gathered at the Baptist church in Charles's hoe town to thank the Lord for the end of the war. Charles was home on furlough at the time, and our complete family attended together. It was quite a celebration!
Charles had to return to Cherry Point and be mustered out before he could come home for good.
Charles often said in the years after the war that “Buddies” in the service are not just buddies – they are brothers. They all seemed to feel a strong sense of brotherhood and connection with each other, realizing that their very lives were in each other’s hands.
This is what Veteran’s Day each year means to me. It means paying individual tribute to those who gave their young lives. It means recognition of the individual loss and sacrifices made – by the soldiers, their families, their children, and the nation as a whole. War is about individual persons! I posted the death date of young men from my school and home town to focus on personal loss.
It also means appreciation for what thousands of our fellow citizens have done for me – for US – for their country – not just in WWII but in other wars our country has fought to preserve our freedoms and the freedoms of people throughout the world. I pray that they shall not have lived and died in vain.