May 25th, 2009

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#29 – Dick Bernard: Memorial Day 2009: A snapshot of the last year of WWII as experienced by two ND farm families

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Taps:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wn_iz8z2AGw

Today is Memorial Day, with all the varied meanings attached to it, all of which are deemed by their interpreters to be the proper meaning, all of which commemorate the tragedy of war. 

An e-mail from Mel in California on Friday, May 23, led me back to a treasure trove of copies of old letters I’ve had for years.  Most of them were written on my grandparents kitchen table, which would have been within the grove of trees included in the photo on the cover page of this blog.  The others would have been written on another kitchen table on a farm about three-fourths of a mile to the right of Sam and his photographer, myself. 

These letters were all written in 1944-45, and provide a snapshot of the impact of one war on one tiny community in the United States.  The quotes were interspersed among mundane bits of news: harvesting, cold weather, going to town and church.  I could have included more than these, but they suffice.  Grammatical and punctuation errors are as they were.  No editor was looking over the shoulder of these writers.  They wrote from the heart to their son, brother, cousin….

My correspondent, Mel, my mother’s first cousin who grew up on the neighboring farm in North Dakota, wrote about “Francis [Long] (marine killed in Tarawa)”.  I knew of Francis; Tarawa particularly interested me, as my friend, Minneapolis businessman Lynn Elling, was a young Navy officer, early in his tour, when his LST arrived at the gosh-awful remains of the Tarawa campaign in late 1943.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Tarawa  His experiences there, and later, seared into his memory, led him to a life long and still continuing quest for peace. http://www.amillioncopies.info .

Mel had his facts slightly wrong: his Aunt, my Grandma Rosa, wrote her son, George, an Officer on the USS Woodworth in the Pacific Theatre, on August 20, 1944: “Fri we had a Memorial Mass for Francis Long killed July 2 on Saipan…”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Saipan

George kept letters he received in WWII, and a few years ago I incorporated all of the letters from home into a family history of two neighboring farm families, the Buschs and Bernings, rural Berlin, ND.

Deadly World War II comes alive simply from pull quotes from a few of the letters written to George from the kitchen tables.  Following are a few samples:

Grandma, September 22, 1944: “I must give Francis Long a spiritual bouquet yet in a Mass they feel so badly.”

September 22, 1944, Uncle Vince writes his brother: “Threshing is coming along fine…[one hired man], a ex-marine from Guadacanal.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Guadalcanal

October 22, 1944, Aunt Edith: “[our sister Florence] wrote they were afraid they were loosing their hired man to the Army.  He got his 1-A….”

Also October 22, Grandma Rosa “[my neighbor and sister-in-law Tina and her daughter Agnes] are going out to Whyoming… to see [their daughter and sister] Rose as Pinkey [Rose’s husband George Molitor] has to go across now too she expects a baby in Nov. so its to bad he has to go at this time.  Mrs. Heim says Elmer is in Holland now was in England & Belgium driving a tank so is in the front too at times Delores is in Italy….”

October 30, Grandma writes “[Vincent] got a card from the draft board saying he was in class II-C till Feb… How I wish it were all over.”  (II-C was likely a military deferment for essential work at home.  Vincent was needed on the farm.)

November 5, Grandma: “The Bernings are well Aug[ust] is still at camp LaJeune NoCar…  Ruby is in cadet nurse training in [Rockford] IL.  Rufina is in training at Iowa City.

January 1, 1945, Grandma writes “[three] are leaving for the service soon…[another Long] is in Class A 1 now too….”

There is “radio silence” on the letters until June, 1945.  Doubtless letters continued, but don’t remain for posterity. 

June 11, 1945, Aunt Tina, Rose’s mother, writes “[daughter] Ruby has gone on to Montana to cheer up Rose a bit as her hubby is missing now for a month or so.  I hope…that he turns up liveing.”  (George Molitor KIA over Italy April 4, 1945, leaving Rose with two daughters, aged two and six months.)

July 25, 1945, Grandma: “…had a letter from [Marine Captain] August [Berning] is on Okinawa he had a bad battle there got shot through his jacket…The boys were to a show last night in LaMoure “30 seconds over Tokyo”….”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Okinawa

August 8, 1945, Grandma: “Lorin H____ is at home now again they say he is nervous and has some shrapnel in his body but I bet he is glad to be home and will soon mend.”

August 26, 1945, Grandma:  Hurrah! The old war is over I can’t say what that means to me….

The surrender documents were signed by the Germans on May 7; and by the Empire of Japan on September 2, 1945.

War continues.  “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”