By Rick Banas of BMA Management, Ltd.
With our country celebrating Memorial Day on Monday, I wanted to highlight some key things I learned in a recent presentation on the “World War II Memorial: A Living Legacy” that was conducted earlier this month at the Cambridge House affordable assisted living community that we manage in O’Fallon, Illinois.
The program was conducted by Renner Funeral Homes.
More than 16 million Americans served in the Armed Services during World War II. These brave men and women came to be known as the Greatest Generation.
More than 400,000 lost their lives. A gold star, with a blue edge, hanging in the window of a home indicated that a family member had died.
With the rationing food being very common, an estimated nearly 20 million Americans planted Victory Gardens as part of the war effort. They pulled together and pooled their resources.
Average annual income in 1940 was $1,725. The average price of a home was $3,900. A gallon of gas was eleven cents and a pound of oranges sold for eight cents.
Because they do not melt easily when you hold them in your hands, M&Ms candy was mass produced to send to the troops overseas.
Nearly 60 years after the war ended, the World War II Memorial was dedicated on May 29, 2004. The memorial, which pays homage to all those who served, is located between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
In the days following the presentation, a number of residents were kind enough to share some of their memories of the Second World War with Mary Chamberlin, Resident Services Coordinator at Cambridge House of O’Fallon.
Merle was a girl just turning 16 years of age in early 1941 when she met Charles Wakefield, a young man of 21. He was a slight young man, who was just taking over the family farm. It must have been love at first sight because they were married just six months later.
Soon after they celebrated their first year anniversary, Merle found out she was pregnant and Charles found out he was drafted. Charles trained at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, just a few miles from his farm in Freeburg Illinois. After he completed his training, he was sent to California to help in the preparations for the new Hospital Ship, the USS Mercy, at the Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Drydock Corp. in San Pedro, California.
While Charles was preparing for his 18 month tour in the Pacific Ocean on the USS Mercy, Merle was at home having their first son. Back in those days pregnant woman didn’t travel much and neither did newborns, so Charles didn’t get to see his son until he was three months old when Merle and the baby took the train to California.
There was Merle, an 18-year-old mother and her three-month-old baby on the train across the country to California; she had never been away from home before let alone by herself. She stayed for about seven months until Charles was ready to ship out. She then came back home. Shortly after she had returned, she found that she was pregnant again. This time, Charles didn’t get to meet his second son until he returned from his tour of duty and his son was 11 months old.
Merle says that it was very common for young wives to have to raise children by themselves for months at a time. And many young men never came home to see the wives and children they left behind.
Clarence “Ace “Wasser
Ace was an “old man” of 26 when the Draft Board called him into duty in 1944. He spent his tour in the states, working in the carpool as a Jeep driver at Camp Bowie in Texas. But not all of the Wasser family was so lucky; Clarence lost a Brother during The Battle of the Bulge.
He remembers that Scott Air Force Base in Belleville Illinois was one of the largest schools for Radio Communication. They schooled more than 48,000 servicemen in how to work the radios in the aircraft and on the ground during World War II.
The training would take several months, and the solders that came for training were put up in barracks on base. But many of these young men had young wives that they did not want to leave behind. So they would bring them along and rent rooms in family homes in the area for their young brides. This brought quite an economic boom to the Belleville area.
Dorothy had spent a year as a teacher after she graduated. But in April of 1943, she felt the need to do her part for the war effort and she enlisted in the Women’s Army Air Corp (WAAC). Her Mother was not very happy about having her daughter become a WAAC but it was done.
Dorothy did her Basic Training in Georgia during July. Basic Training for the ladies was not as strenuous as it was for the men but it was July and very HOT. She was glad to be sent to Lauery Field in Denver to attend Photo School. She learned to develop aerial photographs for map making.
Dorothy was then sent to March Field in California and then back to Colorado to Petersons Field. She says that the pay wasn’t very good but she did get to see some different parts of the country and meet lots of good people including her husband.
In 1939, while we here in the U.S. were still trying to stay out of a war that seemed half a world away, Rosine was living under the constant threat of bombing. She was living in London with her Grandmother during the The 1940 London Blitz. She tells the story of the night her home was turned into an unlivable pile of rubble.
That night the air raid sirens went off, and she and her Grandmother headed for the bomb shelter along with their neighbors. Just before they got there, her Grandmother remembered the cat had been let out and she was afraid that the kitty would run off with all the noise. She told Rosine to go find the cat. Her Grandmother was so upset that Rosine headed out to find the cat just to settle Grandma down. As she got closer to their flat, she saw the cat sitting on the stoop, but things were exploding all around her. She picked up the animal, tossed it inside the door and ran toward the bomb shelter. As she ran, a bomb exploded near by throwing Rosine into a brick wall. She had a head injury from hitting the wall but she made it back to her Grandmother.
When it was all over, their home had no roof and it was missing some walls. It was surrounded by rubble. They found the cat stretched out in front of the fireplace, napping as if nothing had happened. Afterward, Rosine and her Grandmother moved to a small village to stay with an uncle who ran a family pub.
In England during the war they would draft both men and women, so when Rosine turned 18 she registered for the draft. When they drafted her, she chose to go into the Women’s Land Army. The young woman of the Woman’s Land Army worked on farms, in factories, and in hospitals, doing jobs that the men would have normally done in order that the men could fight to protect their country.
Rosine was sent to Farm School in Summerset, England, were she learned to tend the gardens and fields and to milk the cows. Rosine spent the war working on a farm and milking 28 cows twice a day.
She met the man she would marry when his outfit was sent to England to prepare for the D-Day Invasion (the video below is a documentary on the day). The girls in her troop were very excited when the Yanks were coming in to join the Party. Apparently our young men had some special appeal for the young ladies of England, but Rosine was not impressed. She had met Yankees before and she said not a one of them could dance. She was proven wrong when she met this solder from Tennessee. Dail Mays swept her off her feet on the dance floor. She and Dail married just before he was sent home after the war. Dail was a solder for 30 years, and Rosine followed hem all over the country from station to station.
Rosine is proud of her participation in protecting her Country during the war. She is proud to have been a War Bride and to raise two sons who have made the military their lives. And she is proud to be an American Citizen and call the USA her home.
Memorial Day originally was called Decoration Day. Traditionally, Memorial Day was observed on May 30. It is now observed on the last Monday of May.
Wikipedia notes that Memorial Day was first enacted by former enslaved Africans to honor Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War.
To help remind us of the true meaning of Memorial Day, we are asked to pause from whatever we are doing at 3 p.m. local time for a moment of silence or to listen to TAPS.
This year as we celebrate Memorial Day 2011 on May 30, which also happens to be the last Monday of May, let us pause to remember all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation over the past 200+ years. Let us also remember one of the Great Lessons from the Greatest Generation – great things can be accomplished when everyone pulls together and pools their resources for a common purpose.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and let us know.
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