Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 14, 2010
Lili Marlene was waiting
Last Saturday, Lili Marlene waited below the lamp post, the home fires were kept burning and we packed up our troubles in our old kit bag as we took a sentimental journey back across six and a half decades.
This journey into the past kicked off at 1 p.m. at American Legion Post #17 in Manhattan, where about 30 veterans of World War II, along with friends and family, gathered to celebrate the end of the war in Europe on May 8 exactly 65 years earlier.
Because it was the anniversary of V-E Day, veterans were asked to share what they were doing when they heard the war in Europe was over, but were welcome to share anything else about their service they felt was significant.
One mentioned being present when a concentration camp in Bavaria was liberated and seeing the dead bodies "stacked like cord wood." He added that some of his fellow GIs, thinking they were helping the starving inmates, gave them too much to eat, resulting in their deaths.
Another spoke about entering the service exactly one month to the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed and still serving when the war came to an end.
Still another mentioned how someone had forgotten to inform his unit south of Bastogne that the war was over and so they continued on for two more days until word arrived.
One fellow had been in training to go to the Pacific, but when the Battle of the Bulge began, his unit was quickly shipped to Europe. Then, when Germany surrendered, they were redeployed to fight the Japanese.
That prompted another veteran to mention that news here in the states was not available as quickly as it is today, so he had to wait until the evening radio report to learn that the war against Germany was over. He commented that for him it wasn't the big day it was for some because he was in training to be sent to the Pacific and that war was still raging.
Another shared that a bigger day for him was a few days before May 8. As the Red Army closed in on his prisoner-of-war camp north of Frankfurt, the German guards, having no desire to be taken prisoner by the Russians, rounded up everyone in the camp and marched them westward until they reached the American lines.
Following a short break after the last veteran spoke, five of the Riley County High School "Swingtime Canteen" girls, including youngest daughter Katie, took the stage and performed part of the show from a month earlier. Accompanist Deb Huyett sang "Lili Marlene," perhaps one of the more unusual songs of the war as it was equally popular with both American and German soldiers.
Despite the gals having had almost no opportunity to rehearse since their April 10 performance, everyone was in tune and their choreography was flawless. And as I looked up and down the rows of listeners, there was an abundance of smiles and a few tears as well as they sang "You'll Never Know," "Don't Fence Me In," "Sentimental Journey," an Andrews Sisters medley and other favorites from the 1940s.
After the show, the applause was long and the appreciation the audience showed was not lost on the singers - girls who are the same age now as some of the sisters and wives and girlfriends were at the time these veterans went off to war. Katie remarked later how different it felt performing for these folks than for the general public.
But except for that small corner of Manhattan, the anniversary of a day that was so eagerly awaited 65 years ago, passed virtually unnoticed in most of our country. Years ago, when husband Art and I were spending so many hours in cemeteries on family history research, he'd sometimes get on a jag of reading tombstone inscriptions out loud. A common inscription was "Gone, but not forgotten." But if the grave looked untended, Art would often add, "Yes you are: you are forgotten."
It wasn't said in a mean way, but just to emphasize that this is how things go. Soon there will be no veterans to tell where they were when the "Nazis Quit," as the headline announced on a copy of the GI newspaper, "Stars and Stripes," brought to the meeting by one veteran. And eventually, all who knew those veterans as brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles will pass as well. The telling of individual tales will fade and only the large sweep of events will be left to be told by history books.
But at least in one place last Saturday, Lili Marlene still waited below the lamp post, the home fires were kept burning and we packed up our troubles in our old kit bag and smiled.