A FEW YEARS AGO, my mom and I were discussing Pearl Harbor. I was interested in hearing about her reaction to the Japanese attack that launched our nation into WW II. Even though she was only nine at the time, my mom remembers her fear.
I recall her very clearly saying that, for all she understood, the attack could have been as near as Marshall. That’s how small her world was back then, confined to the familiar surroundings of the Redwood County farm where she grew up. Marshall lies only 30 some miles to the west. She had no idea that Pearl Harbor was an ocean away from her Minnesota prairie home.
Such remembrances interest me because they tell the personal side of history that statistics and broader, general stories can never reveal.
A few weeks ago, I met a WW II veteran from Rice County. I won’t delve into the details of how I met him (that’s another story), but this 91-year-old man impressed upon me the horrors of WW II.
Rhody and I didn’t talk specifically about the Pearl Harbor attack, but rather we briefly touched on the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. He pulled out a stash of black-and-white photos and, one by one, handed over prints that showed utter and total devastation of the Japanese landscape.
“We cleaned up the mess in Nagasaki,” Rhody tells me as I gingerly handle the images.
“What do you mean?” I ask, not quite understanding, or maybe not wanting to understand.
“We cleaned up the rubble,” Rhody says. “There were too many dead people.” And that is all he will say about those who died. I don’t press him.
But I wonder about the child-sized Japanese sandals made of woven reeds or grasses that he has shown me earlier.
I follow up with one more question. “What about going into the area?”
He recalls the words of his sergeant: “It could be radioactive, but you gotta go in anyway.” And so that is Rhody’s story. He did what he must do for his country.
Several months earlier, I met another WW II veteran, Howard. He was driving his patriotically-decorated 1950s vintage Chevrolet pickup truck through downtown Kenyon when I caught up with him just outside the local VFW.
Howard served in the U.S. Army, in the China Burma India Theater, and is a member of the Kenyon Veterans’ Color Guard. We didn’t talk about WW II. But rather, I admired this veteran’s proud display of patriotism in the American flags and the “Support Our Troops” sign adorning his truck. (See my August 24 post, “WW II vet supports troops.”) Howard’s love of country and his appreciation for freedom touched me.
Today, on this the 68th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, take time to honor WW II veterans like Howard and Rhody. And remember those 3,500 Americans who were killed or wounded on American soil on December 7, 1941.
© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling