Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 3, 2004

A tribute long overdue

It seems that every youngster who scores a touchdown or hits a home run at a turning point in a game is dubbed a hero. To me, using that word for sports leaves us searching for a better one to describe those whose sacrifices and actions saved countries rather than just games. Also, "The Greatest Generation," which can be traced to newscaster Tom Brokaw's book of the same name, seems to me to depreciate the contributions of those who fought in our nation's other wars.

But the memorial dedicated this past Saturday in Washington, D.C. to recognize those who helped win World War II says more than any single word or phrase can impart. It came just in time for the 60th anniversary of the June 6 D-Day landing in Normandy, France. But it was too late for three out of every four of the 16 million veterans who served. About 1,100 of them die every day.

What is unusual about the World War II memorial is that it is a tribute to everyone who helped - from those serving in the military to those on the home front. Farms, factories and back yards were as much a part of our nation's front line as were the European and Pacific theaters.

Citizens conserved fuel, collected scrap metal, sponsored blood drives and book campaigns, baked cookies, grew victory gardens and worked hard in factories that manufactured planes and guns and submarines. Kansas children picked milkweed pods, whose fiber was used in life jackets. Twenty-eight ounces of it kept a person afloat for 140 hours.

Posters urged Americans to do their part. "Every Citizen a Soldier," "Farmers are the Soldiers of the Land," "Are YOU Doing All You Can?" and "We Can Do It!" are part of a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibition touring several Kansas communities this year.

My Uncle Stan had just turned 20 when he was inducted into the service. He was a member of the 100th Air Service Squadron of the Army Air Force from early 1943 until late 1945 in the South Pacific, serving in New Guinea, Wakde Island, Leyte Island, Luzon Island and Ie Shima. Uncle Bob, who had moved to California in the late 1930s, joined the Merchant Marines.

Dad stayed on the farm to help Grandpa on the home front, raising wheat, oats, corn, alfalfa, white kaffir corn and flax. The seeds from flax were used to make linseed oil and its fiber was used for parachutes. Mom helped feed hundreds of cadets when she was a young student at Emporia State Teachers College. Uncle Bud, Mom's sister's husband, was a company clerk in the 90th Airdrome Squadron of the Army Air Force in China.

Art's dad managed an all-woman crew at a company that made hair pins before the war, but switched to making submarine hatches. His mom raised vegetables in her back yard. His Uncle Pete flew a B-17 over Germany and his Uncle Art flew a B-29 in the South Pacific. His Uncle Rollie was an engineer with General Patton's forces in Europe.

Uncle Stan and Aunt Kay planned to attend the memorial dedication, but were too late to get tickets on the mall and decided to watch it from their home in California instead. They will be in Kansas this weekend for my nephew's wedding, and I think I'll discuss going to Washington, D.C. Those who served in the war didn't consider anything they did as heroic. But each contributed a lot more than winning a game. I'd like to take them to see their grateful nation's tribute to them and their generation.

Uncle Ellis "Bud" Keys, left, served in China. Uncle Stan Freeland, right, served in the South Pacific.

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