It was those Gold Stars
With Memorial Day fast approaching, I find myself looking back to my early years. I was a kid in the mid-forties and living in a small Eastern Oregon town as WWII raged in the South Pacific and across Europe. My father was the minister of a local church.
Even as a child I recall vividly how when the war broke out our town was suddenly stripped of its young men. Many of them just boys, really. Gone, it seemed, overnight. Many of them had only recently graduated from the local high school. Only a short time before they had been playing sports, beating the pants off Baker City, going to proms and planning their futures. But now, the nation called. And they answered that call.
There was an officers' training program at the college on the hill above where we lived and I can recall many of those young men, now in training, marching down our street in close formation each morning, rifles on their shoulders, loudly singing their marching songs, songs that were often a bit bawdy, And I, the preacher's kid, marching after them with my toy rifle on my shoulder, also singing those songs in a loud voice, much to my parents' chagrin, hoping no one from our church was there to see and hear me. I remember the rationing of goods. I remember the bond drives to raise money for the war effort. We all, no matter our age, pitched in.
But what do I recall most poignantly about those years?
I remember the gold stars. The gold stars that began to appear, one by one, in the windows of our friends and neighbors. Silently, with no fanfare. Signs of the lost sons and husbands, brothers and uncles gone to war. And I can recall my father being called out, often in the middle of the night, to be with those neighbors and friends as they dealt with the awful news. Another boy would not be coming home again. And he would rush to the side of those parents or spouses to offer what comfort and support he could. And we all, even a kid like me, could understand something of the grief that now occupied that house. A family that would never be the same again.
No, not all our boys came home to the GI Bill and a college education, or marriage, or a career, flush with victory over the forces of evil that had so threatened our world. No, some of them, too many of them, returned only to the silence of the gold stars. Their duty done so that the rest of us could go on with our lives and continue to enjoy the freedoms we still enjoy today.
So, where are we today? I see us drifting back toward those forms of fascism and hate not seen so openly by Americans since those earlier days. I see the anger in the streets, anger toward anyone deemed to be different, be they African American, Asian, Hispanic, Jewish ... the list goes on and on. I see blood now running in our streets. Blood of the innocent seeking to stand up against armed thugs, against those who stand only for hatred and division.
And I wonder, where is our leadership? Where is the moral voice of our time, bringing us together rather than breaking us apart and pitting one against the other?
Yes, those of us who lived through those early war years still remember the horror, the misery and the sacrifices needed to stand united against that anger and hatred.
And, yet, my friends, for that boy that was me those many years ago, mostly in my mind's eye and heart, I see those houses, with their windows still
darkened with grief. And there set against that darkness, the gold stars. Those gold stars still appearing, silently, ever so silently, one after the other.
Yes, one after the other.
Ron Talney writes a monthly column for the Review.
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