Hominy & Hash
PRIDE OF WORLD WAR II SERVICE LINGERS FOR DECADES
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga., May 29, 2006 -- As I write on this Memorial Day, as all the flags are waving and "Taps at Twilight" echoes across the island, I am thinking of my five brothers, all of whom proudly served in World War II. I miss their laughter and their total enjoyment of life, defiant of all they faced in all the theaters of that war. I was the baby of the family; they were my heroes.
Tonight, John and I were having dinner at a favorite restaurant where you can have a drink and order dinner at the bar. One regular was saying that our memorial service here on St. Simons was :wonderful" ... :meaningful" ... "thought-provoking." We agreed. I mentioned my brothers.
"You had brothers in World War II?" he asked, wide eyed.
"Well, yes," I answered, "in all theaters."
"Wow," he said, "five brothers."
"And did you know her brothers planted the trees at the 1939 World's Fair?" John interrupted.
Russ was perplexed. "'World's Fair?; 1939?"
Okay, it was an inside joke. John was just trying one-up me - he knew I'd very soon let my pride get away from me and I'd be off and running. Instead, I just shut up. Maybe I have brought it up too often. When I see the trees planted during the Depression as part of a prject to employ young men mounted by the Roosevelt-era Works Project Administration, I get weepy-eyed. I know what that project meant to our family of 11 at the height of the Depression.
It was work! Five able-bodied young men planted the trees and the hard work strengthened their bodies at the same time. It was a miracle to us. Prior to that work assignment, these went into Manhattan every morning with shoeshine kits and stationed themselves at corners where they might catch the elite in need of a shine. They'd smile brightly and catch the spinning quarters inmid-air, and later they rang in silvery tones as they were poured onto the dining room table a Mama fixed their meager dinners of hash.
As the trees flourished, so did our family. We were working, and we were proud. In l941, all five of these able-bodied Americans joined up to protect our freedoms. Each chose a different branch of the armed services and deployed to a different theater of war. Bill joined the Rainbow Division out of New York, the "Fighting Sixty-Ninth." He was already in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Jack, the youngest, went in at 17, and was with the Third Marine Division, and eventually served with distinction at Iwo Jima. Paul was with the RCAF in Canada, while Herb and Eddie were in the South Pacific and Munich, Germany.
Life being what it is, and being only a baby sister, I don't have their medals, trophies, and the like. Those are treasured possessions of their families, wives, children, and grandchildren.
What I do have is the memory of the quarters ringing across the dining room table and the contented look on Mama's face when she knew the rent would be paid, the coal delivered, the groceries paid for in cash. And all because some forerunner of Donald Trump had his shiny shoes shined again by a kid too proud to beg - but who gave him a great shine and deserved the quarter.
So when my husband teases me as I boast that my brothers planted the trees at Flushing Meadow Park, home of the New York World's Fair in 1939 and 1964, I can take it. After all, John doesn't really get it. Women cry at parades. Women cry - that's what we do. We cry over the men who didn't come home after the war and we cry for the men who came home but now are dead. We cry because maybe we didn't thank them enough for all they did.
Perhaps now I have grace enough not to boast about five young fellows planting seedlings on a plot in Flushing Meadow Park. Their goal was a paycheck, after all, and not a vision of how the seedlings might look in 2006.
But I ask you, the next time you visit New York and fly in over Flushing Meadow Park and see Shea Stadium over to the left, take one look at the tall stately trees in the surrounding area. They weren't always there, you know. They were planted seedling by seedling, acorn by acorn, and grew to be the majestic maples, cypress and oaks you see today. So did my brothers, who like those trees still stand tall and proud, though only in memory.