As this is being composed, it is shortly after noon on the Congressionally designated day for the observation of Memorial Day, on the fourth Monday of May. This day was originated as being, and for many decades was, on May 30 and set aside to pay honor to those thousands who picked up arms and gave their lives in our several wars beginning with the “War Between the States” fought to prevent the separation of the Union of the United States of America.
The usual talk shows of a Monday were replaced with a “best of” or in the case of KFAQ, formerly the famous KVOO, in Tulsa an all-day special by Glenn Beck on the meaning of Memorial Day. Listening to that presentation, and its guests included, brought back to my mind several of the instances experienced during the 1940s’ disagreement known as World War II. It now seems appropriate to remember a few – especially for those far too young to have known, or even heard the same. This is mostly because our deteriorated education system has lost interest in imparting history truthfully, if at all, to the students entrusted to their teaching.
First off, on December 7, 1941 (as a studious 15-year old high school junior), the information came to me when the KVOO music program was interrupted with the announcement that “The Japanese had raided Pearl Harbor and we are now at war.”It really did not occur to me just how that announcement would bring so much change to all our lives. The first thing noticed was that the next day, Monday, President Roosevelt addressed Congress with a request for a formal declaration of war, ending his speech with “and with the help of God we will prevail in this endeavor, so help us God!” A military draft had been instituted a few years earlier so most graduating seniors, being 18, were almost immediately called to duty.
One of the first instances came about rather early. An older man, who had been my swimming instructor, was in the Army Air Corps as a P-40 pilot and fighting in the Philippine Islands. The story that we received was that he was assigned, with a bomb, to destroy a railroad bridge captured by the enemy. His bomb missed, so being determined to successfully complete the mission he dove his plane into the bridge, with a train crossing it, thus giving his life.
Shortly thereafter, possibly the summer of 1942, while in Blackwell (spending time with my paternal grandparents), information surfaced that one of my older friends from previous visits had been on the battleship Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor, but had gotten overboard and swam ashore through the burning oil on the water’s surface.
The next instance, if chronological memory is accurate, was a classmate and friend who had joined the Navy and had been lost on duty. The story was that he was still stateside and was assigned to guard duty. Earlier, he felt sick and went on sick-call where the medic simply told him he had a cold and gave him some aspirin. He went on duty where it was a cold winter night and he collapsed and died. The doctor examining his body stated he had pneumonia. He had been very popular in school and that hit all of us hard, especially since it was so unnecessary.
Later on, as the war progressed and disrupting the Nazi fuel supplies was urgent (since their mode of operation was highly mechanized), there were B-24 bombers flying out of North Africa to attack the Ploesti Oil fields in Romania. One of those was named, as all seemed to be, “Take Me Back to Tulsa” and all except one of the crew were actually from Tulsa, so it was reported. The pilot was married to a member of a prominent family and had two small children. One evening his wife was at a club dinner with her parents and younger sister was at home sitting the children when the telegram was delivered of the plane’s loss.
This is what Memorial Day is really all about!