Archive for Memorial

Signs of a WWII Veteran

One hundred years ago today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the First World War, which killed 40 million people, finally ended. Dubbed the ‘war to end all wars’, it was a day continuously prayed for and hoped for four years.

Twenty-three years later the United States entered the Second World War against all hopes that it wouldn’t be necessary. What happened to the shared notion that the world should never again be involved in such a regrettable tragedy as war?

Until 1954 Armistice Day remained the day to memorialize the lives lost in WWI and to honor its ending. Becoming Veterans’ Day, the holiday honored all those who served in the armed forces at any time.

You could say WWII had two Armistice Days — VE Day (Victory in Europe) on May 8, 1945 and VJ (Victory in Japan) on August 15, 1945 or September 2, 1945 depending on how you measure the end of the war officially.

US troops returned home in full force. There was shortage of boats, trains, buses, and automobiles to bring everyone home to their final destinations. Many had earned their ‘points’ needed to honorably discharge from the military and once they hit shore, were relieved of duty and free to go on their way in a very big hurry.

Shortages in civilian attire made it difficult to determine who was discharged and who was AWOL. It wasn’t possible for every soldier to simply change out of uniform into civilian trousers, shirts, or suits to become non-military. Therefore, the discharged soldiers were given a lapel pin to wear, signifying their approved departure from the military.

It was officially called the Honorable Service Lapel Button and was crafted of glit metal or glit plastic during metal shortages (the plastic versions were allowed to be traded in for a brass version when supplies returned to normal). Though the design is of an eagle standing, about to take flight with one wing outside of the button’s round border, the pin became known as a “Ruptured Duck” because the eagle didn’t quite look as regal as one would hope.

Some veterans wore the button on their civilian lapels for many years after the end of the war and it became widely used as an unofficial symbol of veterans’s pride.

Other signs of a veteran’s home was of course, the blue star banners hung in windows of homes. The number of stars represented the number serving from the same home. A blue star would be covered with a gold star if the serving family member died in service.

One more sign displayed, though not as often, was a welcome home banner. Many versions were used and are very hard to find circulating in antique shops or estate sales today.

The military scrambled to discharge the troops efficiently, but there were many things to consider – life insurance benefits, payroll, bonus dollars, housing, certificates of honorable discharge — lots of paperwork to process. The Department of Veterans Affairs had only been established in 1930 and was still learning the best way to process the 16.5 million men and women who served during WWII (before computers!). It was quite an undertaking and involved many steps that could be mistakenly missed or skipped if not careful. Pamphlets were given to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in hopes of making the transition go smoother.

Today, Veterans’ Day 2018, an estimated 496,777 veterans of WWII are living. To each and every one of them I say — Thank YOU and may you live all your days in peace and comfort for the unfathomable valor of your service.  And to the home front veterans of WWII — Thank YOU for the inspiring example of courage, resolve and tenacity that would be impossible to replicate today.

December 7th…74 Years Later

Remember Pearl Harbor

Another year has passed since Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, 1941. President Franklin Roosevelt was absolutely correct when he said it would become a date that would live in infamy. Most of us have heard the beginning of the famous address to the nation: “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

The speech is not long, less than eight minutes in length, but very few people who I have met in the past year have been able to recall the final two minutes of the speech, which I feel are very powerful words to describe United States history:

“As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.”

infamy speech

What FDR phrased as the “unbounding determination of our people” is the essence of The Greatest Generation. The rationing rules and War Bond sales on the home front were considered the duty of all in order to prove the resolve of the country. They were called to serve at home, and serve they did.

In the name of those who died at Pearl Harbor, women went to work in the kitchen, in war production plants, at Red Cross volunteer campaigns, in scrap metal drives, at church gatherings to support Blue Star Mothers and young widows, and on and on.

Man Size Job

Americans’ way of living was drastically affected between 1941 and 1945. The sacrifice of war was carried by all.

Purl Harbor

Sugar bowls were nearly empty. Every scrap of paper used to wrap meat and sandwiches, tin from cans and ounce of grease from frying was recycled for war needs.

Lessons from WWII food rationing remain untaught in my kitchen. The past year of living aware of the rules and being mindful of the differences between 1943 and 2014 is still interesting to me. There remain many more things to write about.

A D-Day Anniversary

D Day

Today marks the 71st anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, France that took the lives of (or wounded) approximately 425,000 Allied and German troops. Back home, the news of the operation would have traveled via radio and newspaper slowly compared to today. When word reached home many Americans were stunned by the staggering numbers reported. 4,000 ships and 11,000 planes supported the attack. For anyone with a loved one in the European theater, they had to wonder and worry; startle at every knock on the door.

If the home front was weary of the rations and shortages, D-Day brought people back to reality. No matter how hard it was to sacrifice and make do, the effort was far worse in Europe and troops needed support without complaint.

Renewed commitment to the effort was found.

In my hometown paper from Ripon, Wisconsin an editorial around the time read, “It is time somebody spoke sharply to those disgruntled citizens who “can’t get along” under wartime restrictions.

The woman who scurries about trying to buy every pair of sheer hose she can get her hands on because she “just won’t wear those heavy stocking” is in the same class as the housewife who chases from store to store, hoping to get still another pound of coffee to add to her hoarded pile.

The woman who “can’t get along” on her sugar ration belongs with the man who feels that something “must be done about” getting him a third pork chop. And all these persons are in the same class with those who are “about ready to give up” because of gas rationing, fuel oil rationing, the shortage of chocolate, the impossibility of getting a new vacuum cleaner, etc. etc.

Is a pork chop, then, a matter of vital concern to a free and ingenious people? Is it really important whether or not we have a second cup of coffee? We have had these things as a matter of course. We have grown used to them, but is it fair to expect them when a whole world is upside down, when there is a battle to the death to see whether democracy shall survive or be wiped out? Is it fair to “beef”about our “hardships” when the issue of victory or defeat is still undecided?

Even if there has been “lack of proper planning” and “unparconable mistakes in Washington” and a “woeful absence of vision”, is it fair, or practical, or helpful to the war effort to grouse and grumble about “condition”?

All over the world today, in dozens of outposts, the soldiers of democracy, though they may have the coffee and beef and the chocolate we find it difficult to get, are living under conditions we cannot even imagine — and dying to keep from us the fate of a permanent loss of good things of life.

Men are dying at sea trying to bring us the coffee we crave, getting some through despite the dangers just so that we may have that cheering drink at breakfast if at no other time.

And we, sitting in our easy chairs with the radio playing, soft music in the background and with the room temperature still comfortable, express our displeasure that our coffee is neither so good nor so plentiful as in the past!

Wake up, complainers! A million Japs are at the throats of our brothers and sons, who are fighting for us in Asia’s heat and Europe’s cold. What have we to complain about, except that we care so little to help them, except that we are not doing all the little we can?”

Normandy Beach

Cemetery at Normandy Beach

A Blue Star Turned Gold

Regardless of the struggle I have with the recipes and ingredients and just the way of things on this project, I do not come anywhere close to the reality of home front living during WWII. I am most reminded when I read a letter from Chaplain John W. Hardy, dated 16 February, 1945.  The letter was given to me by one of the wonderful people I interviewed in connection with this project.

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To: Mr. Chester A. Gerrie

February 16, 1945

On behalf of our Commanding Officer, I wish to express to you and your family our sincere and deep sympathy in the loss of your son, Capt. Jack S. Gerrie. It is always difficult to express one’s feeling in a letter, especially in matters which touch our lives as deeply as this.

I feel sure that the War Department has given you the details of his accidental death here on the 29 December, 1944. It was while awaiting transportation home, at this Depot in England, that the fatal accident occurred to your son.

On Sunday, 31 December, 1944, at our morning service here in the Garrison Chapel, we had a Memorial Service. This service was attended by many of the men on the Post. In the congregation were several officers and men who had been in combat with your son. In the service we remembered you and the family in our prayers, and asked god to give you strength and courage.

I also, being the Protestant Chaplain of the Post, had the honor of going with four other officers, three of them from your son’s regiment, as an escort to the Cambridge National Cemetery where your son was laid to rest. This too, was a most impressive service, for full Military honors were part of the funeral service. As the blessing was given, committing your son to a peaceful rest, taps was sounded and the volley was fired while we gave the salute. The cemetery is one of the most beautiful and peaceful spots in England. The Army will take great care and pride in the resting place of your noble son.

I hope that you will find consolation, as I know you take pride, in the excellent record of your son. He was one of the most decorated soldiers that we have had the honor of passing through our Post. These all are a token of his loyalty to his country, the unceasing courage, heroic effort, and warm companionship shown to his comrades as he strove to maintain the high ideals for which many have sacrificed so much. It is in men like your son that our country takes pride, and will enable her, one day, to bring Victory to our cause, and Peace to our World.

On behalf of our Commanding Officer, Officers, and men, we extend to you and your family our heart-felt sympathy, and hope that you will find consolation in the high esteem which we have for the courage, heroism, and fellowship so beautifully lived by your son, and also the hope that we can maintain those same characteristics as nobly as did he.

Sincerely yours,

(Signed: John W. Hardsy, Chaplain, (Capt.))

In WWII the common sight of Blue Star Banners in the window meant there was a family member of the home serving in the Armed Forces. Some homes had more than one blue star; each individual son, husband, father, was recognized by a blue star. A gold star pasted over the blue star represented the honorable death of the family member. For his parents’, Chet and Isabelle, Capt. Jack Gerrie’s star turned gold and the small community of Ripon, Wisconsin was given the unspoken signal to surround the family with prayers and loving support.

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I was intrigued by the letter enough to research Capt. Jack Gerrie’s service a little further. He was, just as the Chaplain described, incredibly decorated. Capt. Jack Gerrie received the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism on 23 & 24 August, 1944 near Fountainbleau, France. Later in October of 1944, he was an integral part of the battle at German-held Fort Driant. Several accounts of his bravery exist. In his own words, in a letter to General Patton, Capt. Gerrie shared the truth of a horrible scene. Enraged to see German troops shooting down American Medics while trying to retrieve wounded Americans, Capt. Gerrie sent German prisoners in their place. Seeing the German troops shooting the prisoners, Capt. Gerrie wrote, “We said to hell with it” and shot the whole damn bunch.” This information from Capt. Gerrie was left out of the US National Archived version of the After-Action Report. Patton himself wrote in his diaries he hoped they could conceal the unfortunate instances of prisoners shot.

A report from militarytimes.com adds a little more information about the hero’s death, but also conflicts with the Chaplain’s letter. According to the site, Capt. Gerrie, “While awaiting transportation back to his unit at a depot in England on December 29, 1944, after a 30-day leave back home in the United States, Captain Gerrie was killed when a captured German gun he was examining accidentally went off.”

I do hope the Military Times article is correct, that Jack had been home for 30 days during the holidays, and not that he was about to go home. Another detail gives my heart a little ease – somehow Capt. Jack Gerrie made it home to the US and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. May he rest in peace.

Capt Jack Gerrie