V.E. Day Memories
Originally posted May 08, 2015
Seventy years ago today the unspeakable evil that was Nazi Germany signed a surrender document to the Allied Powers, the U.S., Great Britain, and the U.S.S.R. It was a complete and total surrender, exactly as the Allies had established as an unconditional demand.
I was five years old, and I remember it well.
When I tell people that, I can tell that they wonder about the ability of a then-small boy to recall in any detail an event like this, but that is because you had not lived the total of your conscious existence with “the war” as a major factor in your life. You had not watched your mother, upon emptying a can of any foodstuff, take both ends out of it and stomp it flat on the floor of the kitchen. The “scrap drive” would later pick it and its cousins up to support the war effort.
You didn’t live in a family that owned a car that was seldom driven due to the fact that you couldn’t get gas or tires for it without ration stamps. You didn’t hear your mother complain about the proprietor of the neighborhood grocery because she had observed him selling rationed items to certain customers but claiming not have them for sale to others…including her. You weren’t told again, and again, and again, that you could not have, say, a pedal car because they were not available because of “the war.” You didn’t routinely get around on public transportation. You didn’t have the experience – which was marvelous – of riding the bus downtown to meet your father when the shift let out at Western Electric (where National Research is now), have dinner across the street at the YMCA cafeteria – which was a great place to eat in that era - take in a movie, and then ride the bus home as a family.
You didn’t watch your father leave for a winter in Chicago being trained for the Western Electric position and coming home to a little boy who had faced a very robust case of the measles while his dad – who was always the chief caregiver in any illness - was away, because of the war.
And you didn’t watch your favorite older cousin come home from the Pacific, rope thin, malarial, and shell shocked, breaking down in sobs as he related the kamikaze caused death of a favorite chaplain. I remember my mother weeping after he left that evening.
So the surrender really was a big deal…a huge deal in fact. Huge enough that my father got out the car that was almost never driven to join a community-wide, multi-directional motorcade of honking vehicles, trailing streamers. We didn’t have any streamers, but there were always old newspapers or candy wrappers on the floor of my dad’s car, and I fashioned some foot-long “streamers” from those, to be trailed from the rear windows of our sedan. And my dad, who was normally not given to nonsense steadily honked our horn along with the rest of the town.
Seventy years ago – a lifetime, and yet so perfectly remembered. Remembered not as a hardship – though there were plenty of those and forever heartaches for families who sent a son, husband, or brother off to the fighting, never to come home again.
And yet, when I look back on it, it doesn’t stand as a sad time. We played soldiers a lot. I shared the joy of having my older cousins come home on leave…always arriving by train in the middle of the night, to be there in the morning when I woke up. And how I loved and admired them. We were a close family, and I was a well-loved and treasured child, and while the war was a monstrous inconvenience occasioning significant sacrifice, my parents – and just about everyone else – were glad to do that. On every day, to live a life intended to hurry “the surrender.” And when it came, it was everything. Absolutely everything.
When my dad came home from his time in Chicago, he brought for my mother a genuine leather wallet/purse specially constructed for ration stamps and tokens. I found it a few years ago when I prepared her condo for sale after she had been admitted to a nursing home. It still had some stamps and tokens in it…items she had on V.E. Day – when we got the car out and honked the horn - and would never need again.
What I know is they – and not just the soldiers – were absolutely the greatest American generation. Believe it.
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