By Jim Heffernan
What follows is a column I wrote for the Duluth News Tribune on one of the anniversaries of the end of World War II in Europe. I’d forgotten about the column until this month when a copy of it was found among the effects of an elderly Duluthian by her daughter, and passed on to me. This year (August) will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. I reprint the column here because its descriptions of my memories of World War II are the same today as they were when I wrote it. Here’s the column.
|Engraving of Kilroy on the WWII Memorial in Washington DC|
It’s (the anniversary of) V-E Day. I don’t remember May 8, 1945, specifically but I remember the war. I was born the autumn Hitler invaded Poland and was a kindergartner when the Germans surrendered. But I remember a lot about the war.
I remember no sugar, no jam and jelly. I remember red and blue (rationing) “points” which my folks had to use along with money to buy certain groceries. I remember being taken to movies and seeing newsreels of the fighting and bombing and being scared by it.
I remember asking my mother if I would ever have to go to war. “No,” I remember her comforting answer. I remember the shortage of gasoline and tires, prompting my father to sell the family car and go without. My father had served in the Army during the First World War and was too old for the second. Like many others who couldn’t serve, I remember he did what he could on the home front. He was involved in Civil Defense and had a big white helmet that I liked to try on, although it was very heavy on my head.
I remember blackouts in Duluth – rehearsals for the local population in case the Germans or the Japanese ever decided to bomb the city’s ore docks. (I didn’t understand then but later realized they played a key role in the American war effort.) I remember a lot of men worked in places called “the shipyards.”
I remember fighting with other kids in the neighborhood over who lived on the American side of the street and who lived on the Japanese side. I lived on the American side.
I remember gold stars on little flags hanging in the windows of people’s homes and knowing they represented “boys” who were in the service. I remember thinking they were “men” and being confused. I remember when service men from our church got killed in the war and how bad everyone felt.
I remember how badly I wanted a scooter and how hard they and other toys were to get because all of the metal was going into the war effort. Then I remember getting a scooter made all of wood – frame, wheels and all – and how the wheels wouldn’t stop squeaking.
I remember wanting a sailor suit and how mad I was when I got one but it had short pants. I remember having friends whose fathers were in the war and hearing stories about how they were stabbing Japanese with bayonets in jungles. I remember that much of our playtime involved playing war and shooting and getting shot. “Bang, you’re dead, you dirty, rotten Nazi.”
I remember “Kilroy Was Here.” I never understood it and still don’t.
I remember the swastika and Hitler and that they were evil. Once I saw a swastika embossed on an old book in our attic (published long before it was adopted by the German Third Reich), and I remember defacing the book with color crayons. I remember Mussolini and Tojo.
I remember President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower. I remember Roosevelt dying and hearing that President Truman would now be our president and hearing that he wouldn’t be as good as Roosevelt no matter what. I remember Gabriel Heatter (a radio news commentator in that era).
And I remember that the war was suddenly over and we could get jam for our bread.
Years later I realized that the war had been fought for me. I was one of the babies of the next generation who Winston Churchill cocked his ear and listened to and said he could hear crying.
Even today when I see World War II vets marching in parades in their Legion or VFW uniforms I stop and think, “Hey, those guys fought a war for me.” And I appreciate it.