Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 12, 2010

We've thanked you less than you deserve

I spoke with former Sen. Bob Dole several times while he was campaigning to raise funds for the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. His passion for the cause made me wonder why memorials to the Korean and Vietnam wars had been completed years earlier, while the one for WWII - a much larger and longer-ago conflict - came later.

Perhaps part of the answer is in how much the United States was involved. In the latter two, young men went off to war while most Americans just continued on with their lives. After those conflicts were over, there was a real sense by those who hadn't served of having been fortunate, perhaps also mixed with a touch of guilt too. Memorials tend to be built by those who don't experience some big event in recognition of those who did.

But almost all Americans during WWII felt they had participated in the war. Young men either went into the service or worked essential defense or agriculture jobs. Many women served in supporting military services nursing injured soldiers or ferrying planes from manufacturing sites to military bases. Still others worked in defense plants and on the nation's farms. And most Americans were inconvenienced by food and fuel rationing and an inability to buy items such as new cars or tires for their old ones. Women used nail polish to paint "seams" down the back of their legs because it was impossible to purchase nylon stockings. Even towns as far away from the front lines as Kansas City had air-raid drills.

So when the war was over, even though the sacrifices by those on the home front were less than those of the soldiers, sailors and airmen, there was a sense that everyone had been through a great ordeal. That common effort and experience bound them together.

Husband Art, who was born near the end of WWII, recalls clearly how when he was young, discussions of the war routinely arose in the course of ordinary conversation.

The economic boom that followed also had a big effect on turning the nation's thoughts away from the war. Finding a good job, getting a college education, buying a new car, owning a home and raising a family caused people to focus on the present or future and turn away from the past.

These same things occurred in the North after the Civil War and led directly to great national projects such as the transcontinental railroad and the settling of the West, including much of Kansas.

But just as with that war, an awakening occurred when the sons and daughters of the veterans became aware that the folks who had brought this country through a terrible time were leaving us at an ever-accelerating rate - and few of us who benefitted by their sacrifices had ever thought to thank them.

This was brought home to Art a few years ago when he received an e-mail from his former boss at Kansas State University. It had a PowerPoint attachment called "Before You Go." The first few lines of the music pretty much sum it up:

"Quietly you've all turned gray.
You did your job, you saved our way.
Our life and freedom you preserved.
We've thanked you less than you've deserved."

Art thought the quality of some of the pictures did a disservice to the spirit of the words so he spent days over the next few months producing what he felt was a more polished version. When I asked him what he was going to do with the result, he said he had no idea - it was just something he felt he should do. I knew what he meant. Every time I hear the music and see the pictures, my eyes fill with tears.

Then one day last fall, youngest daughter Katie came home quite excited. While she could hardly contain herself long enough to tell me the big news, it was her Dad she really wanted to tell. Vocal teacher Janie Brokenicky had decided the school would do the musical "Swingtime Canteen" in the spring. The show centers on a fictitious United Service Organizations - USO - group located in London during World War II. The USO celebrated its 69th anniversary last month.

The exciting part for Katie was discovering that the songs in the show were the same ones she had so often heard Art and his Mom Donna sing.

I've been telling veterans I know and their organizations about the show. The music is great and there are plans for cast members to move through the audience with coffee, just as the USO people did more than 65 years ago. Many I have spoken with said they plan to attend, and I hope they do. The show will be fun for everyone, but particularly so for the ones we've thanked less than they deserved.

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