World War II Veterans used to seem to be everywhere. They were our fathers, grandfathers, uncles and even great grandfathers. The greatest generation of brave men and women who served in the military are fewer in number now, as old age and mortality takes its toll. December 7 in Pearl Harbor Day, the date that lives in infamy as the date that Japan attacked the U.S, Military at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. The USS Arizona is the site of the battleship that serves as a watery grave in the Pacific Ocean for hundreds of sailors.
The war was already in progress in the European Theater, but the United States had not yet entered the fray. On December 7, 1941, Japan unexpectedly bombed military bases on Oahu, killing thousands of people, according to information on the USS Arizona Memorial website. Read Remember Pearl Harbor – A Date That will Live in Infamy.
The act of war by the Japanese led President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, FDR, to petition Congress for a Declaration of War. Although war against the Nazi forces of Hitler’s Germany was not mentioned in the declaration, this declaration opened the door for Roosevelt to send U.S. Forces to Europe as well.
Young men patriotically enlisted to fight in the battle of the century. As young men went oversea to fight, and often die, women took their places in the factories in the United States. The time of war was a period of unity that we have not seen since. Women working in the munitions plants felt they were making their contribution to the war effort as the men were on the battle lines.
There were women on the battle lines as well, but they were usually nurses, ambulance drivers and drivers for officers. Women in the military were not as accepted as they are today.
Family Stories of War
I have known many soldiers who battled in the war effort. Both my father and father-in-law were in the military, although on different ends of the world.
My father-in-law recently told us about his early days as a young sailor. He enlisted before Pearl Harbor and was hoping to be shipped to Europe. His ship, the Monssen 798, was deployed from the East Coast when the Pearl Harbor attack took place. He thought they were headed to Europe when the battalion of U.S. Navy ships turned south down the coast and through the Panama Canal to the Pacific, where he spent the next six years. For the first three years he never got off the ship.
Like many veterans of the war, he didn’t talk that much about it, so we were surprised when we went to his ships reunion with him and learned that his shipmates considered him a war hero. One night he was standing watch alone when a group of Japanese invaded the ship and he shot them down as they crawled onto the deck. The next morning his crew mates found him and a bunch of dead enemies. They called it the night John saved the ship.
My father served in the European Theater. The war was already full on when he was deployed with the Army Air Force. At my father’s funeral my brother, a minister, spoke about a diary that my father had kept while he was crossing the Atlantic. He was standing watch on the ship’s deck at night when something whizzed by in the water. He looked down and realized that the ship had just been passed by a torpedo. I cannot imagine how terrified the 17 year old must have been. His troops landed on the coast of Northern Africa, which is where the diary ended. I had never known it existed.
My father also had many traumatic experiences in the war. After landing in Africa they went to Europe, arriving just after the battle of Normandy. My dad took the massive loss of life in that battle very personally. They went on to Germany, where his best friend was shot dead as they walked down the street together. After Germany he was sent to Italy where he was part of what was called the clean-up crew at the end of the war. Even after the war was officially declared over, he saw many ugly things. Read Memorial Day in Plum City, Wisconsin
It was very hard for my father to talk about the war, so I just know bit and pieces. In fact, both my father and father in law would have a way of being really close mouthed most of the time and then unexpectedly blurting out something really amazing about what they had seen or done. Then they would get quiet and we knew not to probe.
My father-in-law recently said that he was sorry that he had never made it to Europe. My father, on the other hand, said he had seen all of Europe he ever wanted to see during the war.
The young men who went off to war in the 1940’s came back as men who had seen too much of the world. In the way of their generation they kept on, doing what they needed to do every day. They got married, had families, went to work, attended church and reintegrated into society. After all they had seen and done, I think all they ever wanted was a normal life.
Honor the Military on Pearl Harbor Day
The brave men and women who battled for the safety and freedom of the United States and the world deserve honor and respect for their contributions. After they have done so much for us, it seems that they do not ask for much. On Pearl Harbor Day, and every day, Thank a Vet for your freedom. Read the History of Veteran’s Day.