World War II was the most widespread war in history. It was a conflict involving the vast majority of the world. In many ways this evil war was so very real and very frightening for children, even for those of us who did not live in a combat zone. Those years showcased some of humanity's darkest hours, yet at the same time some of our finest moments came through. Many of us who lived through those years have fleeting, yet deeply embedded memories of that time. The war entered our lives in so many very personal ways, often close to home. Some of those slates have never been wiped clean.
From the time Willard and I married, almost every year, he and I would carry an American flag and flowers and drive out to Lakewood Cemetery on Memorial Day or May 24th, the day his brother, Second Lieutenant Robert Thomas Boggan, was shot down. And even now that my husband is gone, I still feel that need and take that drive, as I did this year on Monday, the 24th.
I had leftover red, white and blue artificial flowers that I had saved. I shopped for flags but since I was a week ahead of Memorial Day they were not available. I found one large expensive one for sale but even though I felt kind of guilty, decided not to buy it.
Once again this year at Lakewood, I set out my humble, flowered memento. "Your sister-in-law did you just as proud as she could," I said.
Then, as I finished my goodbye remembrance, a short distance away a gentleman carrying a handful of American flags was getting out of a car.
For some reason he approached me and said, "I come out here every year and do this. I'm a few days early because I'm going to be out of town for Memorial Day." He held up a flag.
"I'm early too," I said. "Where did you find the flags?" Then, I kind of lied. "The places I went, nobody had them in yet."
"I have extras." He put a flag in my hand. It was as if God gave me the gift of a flag I should have, but did not buy.
As I set mine in the metal container attached to the grave the man stood beside me and said a short prayer. I gave a brief thank you to this gentleman for what he had done.
Back in my car feeling a little sad, I let the seat back. I allowed myself a few moments of quiet, soulful, painful, remembering; going back to another time, almost a different life.
In days gone by we proudly waved flags, sang patriotic songs. Not many toys were made because of materials that were needed for the war so imagination often became a main component of play. There was food rationing. Our families participated in Victory Gardens. There were air raid drills at school. Marching to the hall we folded arms over our heads and crouched on our knees.
I recall blackout nights when air raid drills were enacted by neighborhood men, wearing helmets and arm bands. The windows in everyone's homes were covered so no lights would show. Wearing conch-shaped hats, armbands, and carrying flashlights the men would patrol our neighborhood until an all-clear siren blew.
I can remember brother Alvin and me singing, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition," as we pulled our red wagons down Eagle Avenue, trying to collect scrap metal or rubber.
We all felt we had a part to play in this war effort and developed a strong, unchangeable spirit of patriotism. We saved our dimes and with pride at the end of each week in school bought war stamps.
And now, sitting in the car, ready to crank up and drive home, with that last thought about 'war stamps,' came a day I'll always remember.
Most children saved their dimes all week to buy Savings Stamps. It was a matter of real pride to walk up the aisle with your money.
But one Friday, when the teacher called my name, I said, "No," in a quivery voice. Although ten dimes weighed heavily in my pocket, word was out that a supply of ice cream had come in.
The next day, on Saturday, I rode my bike to Currie's Grocery Store on North State Street and bought a vanilla ice cream cone. I'll always remember the briny taste and a creamy vanilla flavor that burned, making me feel like I had choked on a mouthful of salty, ocean water.
Holding the cone with one hand, I steered my bike with the other, but when I leaned over to wipe my face, the ice cream slid off. Losing my treat didn't matter anymore.
That day, one of the lowest of my life back then has stayed with me, henceforth and forever more.
Even with that, I am proud to say, I was a child of World War Two.
Something I read ages ago has stayed with me. "Any child who went through that period it is a part of their personality."
And yes, it is.
"Coming in on a wing and a prayer."
"Coming in on a wing and a prayer."