Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Parents' Perspective

My dad was stationed at Camp Roberts in California at the beginning of World War II. My mom, who had never been more than 50 or 60 miles from Wills Point, Texas, got on a train to San Francisco and married him a few days after arriving. Dad was probably destined for combat in the south Pacific, but a need arose for soldiers with post office experience...and Dad's mom had been a postmistress in west Texas, so he parlayed that into a position with the Army post office in San Francisco.

But there was still the time when he had to say good-bye to Mom and boarded a ship destined for wartime action...only to be inexplicably brought back to port and fortunately, Dad never saw combat. But he did an amazing job of getting mail to the soldiers who did have faraway addresses - we have several letters in our possession that call attention to the proficiency he brought to the operation, and what a vital operation that was.

One thing that has always stuck with me is my parents' description of what wartime was like stateside. About how often San Francisco and other coastal cities had to go dark after sunset and therefore render themselves less of a target for Japanese planes. There was always that fear that if Japan had the nerve to hit Pearl Harbor, they might have the capability of striking the west coast. My parents spoke of just how tenuous they perceived the nation's future was. Japan was certainly a formidable foe and Hitler was unstoppable early on in Europe.

Obviously, my parents had no way of knowing that Allied forces would eventually triumph. For all they knew, the United States might buckle under the stress of fighting what amounted to two wars half a world apart. Life was scary, freedoms were dear, and love of country was the adrenaline that pushed them to make the most of every day they had with each other - and make whatever sacrifices needed to be made for our country.

What hurts me now is the sometimes cavalier attitude that younger generations have toward our hard-won freedoms. I do cut them a lot of slack, however, because unless you have lived through a time when you think the country might fall, there's no way you can appreciate America like Mom and Dad did. They were in their 20's and didn't know if two months later, the war might be lost and the country's freedoms permanently destroyed. I'm sure that uncertainty made their love for each other and their country more intense and more precious. Fear was the adrenaline that drove relationships...and armies.

So I hope this Memorial Day that those who've never paused to grasp how this great country has managed to stay free will be struck by the sacrifices of those who've gone before us. And that they'll resolve to honor and revere the sacrifices made by our veterans, even by those who never fired a bullet at an enemy but made certain a sweetheart's letter was delivered to a homesick guy on the front line.


Jeff S. said...

Great post. Reading about WWII and seeing films on it are certainly different: we know the end of the story. People back then didn't, and it is impossible for me to grasp the terror and uncertainty that must have gone along with that.

My grandfather was wounded on Iwo Jima and only shortly before his death was he able to talk about the horrors that he witnessed. I can't imagine being in that environment, which make me agree totally with Tom Brokaw's assessment that they were "the greatest generation."

Tim Perkins said...

Jeff: Was your grandfather on Dad's side or your Mom's?

Jeff S. said...

My mom's side.

Blake Perkins said...

I didn't know that Grandaddy was that close to going into the Pacific. Great story. You guys are right, our generation will never appreciate the environment that was 1941-1945.

It's nice to see my father and good friend getting along again... LOL