THANK YOU, WORLD WAR II GENERATION
On May 29 the National World War II Memorial in Washington, DC was dedicated to honor the sixteen million American servicemen and women who served during that war and the tens of millions of civilians who toiled and sacrificed on the home front for the war effort. It is fitting that we honor them. With our nations allies they defeated formidable enemies. They preserved the freedoms which we enjoy today. They built a prosperous post-war America.
In the years preceding World War II few Americans felt that the United States should get involved in foreign affairs. A March, 1937 Gallup opinion poll indicated that 94 per cent of Americans thought that we should stay out of all foreign wars. Following the end of World War I in 1918 Americans had turned repulsively away from the horrible carnage and destruction of that war. Idealistic internationalism, which was a major factor in our participation in World War I, gave way to cynical isolationism. In 1919 Congress rejected membership in the new League of Nations. Dealing with the hard economic times of The Great Depression in the 1930s caused Americans to turn further inward even as ominous events were happening around the world.
The Japanese army invaded Manchuria in 1931 and Shanghai in 1932, Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, fascist forces supported by Germany and Italy fought a civil war to overthrow the Spanish Republic in 1936, Germany annexed Austria in 1938 and seized Czechoslovakia in 1939. When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, England and France declared war on Germany. World War II in Europe began. In 1940 Germany blitzkrieged Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands, Belgium, and France. The British army had to flee across the English Channel from Dunkirk in Normandy to avoid annihilation. In June, 1941 the German army invaded the Soviet Union.
Elizabeth Howard of Abingdon graduated from Avon High School in 1936. She said that most of her neighbors in rural Fulton County didnt pay much attention to the ominous news coming in from around the world in the 1930s. They focused on surviving The Depression. She did pay attention to current events. She recalled that she and her dad got up at 3 am one morning in 1938 to hear Hitlers radio broadcast on why Germany had invaded Austria. She couldnt understand a word he said, but the tone of his voice and her knowledge of what had been going on in Europe aroused a feeling of dark foreboding in her. Elizabeths husband Earl said he was also concerned about world events in the late 1930s. He was a member of the Illinois National Guard when it was federalized in March, 1941 for a possible national emergency.
My mom Helen was on duty as a twenty-four year old telephone operator for Mountain States Telephone Co. in El Paso, Texas when she heard the news of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. She said she didnt know where Pearl Harbor was, and she didnt have time to think about what had happened as the telephone circuits lit up as many people in El Paso started making calls when they heard the news. Mrs. Howard was in her first year of teaching in a country school east of Avon when she heard the news. Her fatalistic reaction was, "This is it!" Earl was stationed at Camp Forrest in Tennessee when he heard the news. His brother was stationed at an air base in Hawaii at the time of the Japanese attack. Like Elizabeth, he said he was expecting some incident to precipitate U.S. involvement in the war, and he was "resigned" to it.
The United States was woefully unprepared to fight a two-front world war in December, 1941. It had to gear up and gear up fast. Things looked bleak. I dont think that we Americans who did not live through World War II can fully understand the fear, anxiety, and trepidation that gripped Americans when they went to war against Japan, Germany, and Italy in late 1941. I also dont think we can fully appreciate the resolve that Americans had then to defeat the enemies that threatened their way of life. They did a hell of a job.
It was an incredibly difficult war to win. By April, 1942 the Japanese had captured the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Hong Kong, Malaya, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Solomon Islands, and northern New Guinea. In North Africa the German Afrika Corps was beginning a drive on the vital Suez Canal, and German U-boats were doing frightful damage to Allied shipping in the North Atlantic. In Russia German armies prepared for a massive assault on Stalingrad. Even as late as December, 1944, when the tide of war had shifted in favor of the Allies, the United States suffered 77,000 casualties during the Battle of the Bulge. The German armed forces were a well-disciplined, well-equipped, modern fighting machine. The formidable Japanese armed forces were fanatically dedicated to their Emperor and their homeland. They practically refused to surrender. During the Battle of Guam U.S. Marines killed 17,238 Japanese soldiers but took only 438 prisoners. 400,000 American servicemen and women died during the war. Elizabeth Howard recalled the fear that Americans at home had of receiving the news that a family member in the military had died. She said her cousin was killed in the Philippines, and that the small town of Fairview in eastern Fulton County suffered a disproportionately high number of wartime deaths. The small town of Bedford, Virginia lost nineteen of its sons on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Thank God, the United States and its allies prevailed in World War II. Its truly frightening to think what the world would have been like had Germany and Japan won the war.
I grew up in Abingdon in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a good town to grow up in for me and my contemporaries due to the efforts of the World War II generation. As a little boy I didnt know anything about World War IIits causes, what hung in the balance, the sacrifices that were required, but I was starting to get clues. I remember going next door to Mr. and Mrs. Kjellanders, my neighbors on Jefferson Street, and seeing on their living room wall a picture of a handsome young man in uniform. I learned that the picture was of their son Glenn who was killed in the Pacific during the war when he was nineteen years old, and that their other three sons, Fred, Frannie, and Bob, and their son-in-law Les Wick had also been soldiers. I heard my dad Pete talk about men he had been in the army with. I didnt know who they were, but I could sense by the way he talked about them that they were dear to him, and as I got older, I came to understand that they were like brothers to him.
My mom told me that in the first week after they were married in 1946, my dad attended five meetings, most of which were probably American Legion meetings. He didnt rack up too many popularity points with her for his absence during that first week. He had a deep pride, a passion, for having had the opportunity to play a small part in his countrys victory in World War II.
I remember accompanying him as a boy in the late 50s and early 60s to Memorial Day ceremonies at the Cherry Grove, Hunt, Catholic (St. Augustine), Babbitt, and Abingdon Cemeteries. My dad and other members of the Legion Ceremonial Squad, Andy Peluso, Wayne Reynolds, Ed Nordquist, Mark Dredge, Steele Todd, Carroll Butterfield, Harold Fordyce, Jess Penn, Walt Howard, Bid Andrews, Mart Allison, Hugh Allison, Russ Hansen, Leo Hickey, Dick Andrews, Toncy Pedigo, Pat Bauer, and Bill Stivers looked handsome in their uniforms. In my minds eye Carrol Butterfield, with his thin moustache, black hair, and wide smile could have played an Errol Flynn role as a swashbuckling pirate or the leader of The Charge of The Light Brigade. The Squads precision in marching and responding to calls to attention, parade rest, attention, the firing of three volleys impressed me.
Pat Bauer told me the Ceremonial Squad worked hard to attain that precision. They practiced every Thursday evening on Main Street in the spring and summer. At the cemeteries on Memorial Day he said one bugler stood with the Squad and played Taps while a second bugler standing a short distance away joined in to give a haunting echo effect. The playing of Taps moved me as a boy. It moves now. Pat recalled what a big event Veterans Day at the Illinois State Fair was with Legion Firing Squads and Drum and Bugle Corps from all over the state participating. In the 1949 Legion competition at the State Fair the Abingdon squad was named Illinois Firing Squad Champion. In the early 1950s they traveled to Philadelphia and placed highly in the national competition.
Recently my mom showed me a scrap of paper from 1962 on which my dad had jotted down some things that he had done during his adult life that were most significant to him. The notes include: U.S. Army May, 1943 to November, 1945, Four Battle Stars, T/4 Wire Sgt., Field Artillery; American Legion 1945-1962, Post Commander 1946-47, Knox County Commander 1948-49; 40 & 8 1947-1962, Chef dGare 1950-1951.
So many World War II veterans seemed larger than life to me as I was growing up. My uncle Walter Hughes, my cousins Roger Howard and Stanley Baker. My godfather Bud Faralli and my confirmation sponsor Russ Hansen. My good friend Joe Sabettis dad, Mario. My Boy Scout leader Tom Draper and my baseball coach Dale Dye. Floyd Tubbs, the popular baseball coach and Scoutmaster. Dr. Bowman, who delivered me and so many Abingdon kids of my generation. Joe Mangieri who was an ace pilot in the Pacific during the war. Bob Gilbert, who loved to fish and hunt, survived the Bataan Death March. My barber, Corny Sandoval. Mayors of Abingdon, Charles Reeder, Sam Mangieri, Ernie Curtis. Men that my dad worked with at the Post Office, George Way, Cliff Jennings, Dick Andrews, Marvin Atkins, Toncy Pedigo, Wendall Lewis, Gene Scott, Bill Stivers, and Leo Allen. My grade school principal Mr. Delahunt, and my eighth grade history teacher Mr. Wilson. Most of my classmates can probably recall Mr. Wilson yanking up his pant leg during class to proudly reveal the scar of a wound he received while he was a paratrooper during the war.
Many Abingdon men served during World War II. Many of them I knew and can remember; some I didnt know. Many of my schoolmates fathers served, Earl Lewis, Raymond Tabb, Bob Wallick, Glen Ward, Art Batson, Ed Boyd, Phil Bulkeley, Max Bull, James Butler, Woody Cage, Red Bond, A.W. Coursey, Myrel Day, Doren Poland, Oscar Brown, Harry Eaton, Dean Edmonson, Forrest Bates, Bob Andrews, Vernon Plasters, Richard Fey, Larry Fetterer, Forrest Freburg, Cleve Gillenwater, Ron Sandberg, John Weathers, Harold Helander, Dale Jones, Guy Legate, Gene Josefson, Bill LaSanke, Bob Lagnese, Kenny Morrison, Dale Morrison, Stanley Lewis, Karl Munzenmeyer, Lester Kronsted, Dale Murray, Bob Nuckles, Conrad Hale, Paul Ortery, Jerry Peacock, Fred Reynolds, Pete Shaw, and Ed Thompson. Men that I saw at church and around town served, Larry Hickey, Gabe Pica, Frank Sebben, John McNamara, Johnny Palmerio, Jim Bowton, Ben Courson, Ralph Legate, Jim Trulock, Paul Pierce, Doren Peck, Leo Gillette, Fritz Castle, Charles Wesner, the Kilpatrick, DeJaynes, and Thurman brothers and cousins. Men served that I worked with on the kiln gang at the Pottery in the summers after I graduated from high school, like Willard Bellar and Harold Still. I can remember placing clay ware on cars next to those hot kilns with Willard at the Pottery. After we had finished our cars, he would drawl in that Arkansas accent, "Im tarred (tired)." He was a good and gentle man. I always looked forward to working with Harold Still. He had a wry sense of humor, a good grin, and didnt mind needling some of the guys on the kiln gang.
Thank you to you Abingdon men who gave your lives during the war, Glenn Kjellander, Roger Garrett, Duane Simpson, Wayne Davis, Carroll Mosser, David Stanforth, Rex Gillenwater, Gordon Baker, Forrest McGrew, Junior Norris, and William Robinson. Thank you to you men who returned to Abingdon after the war and made it a good place to grow up for my generation. Thank you to you Abingdon women, Geraldine Bauer, Margaret Smith, Oma Billingsley, Polly Coursey, Betty Knickerbocker, Thelma Fiacco, who were in the armed forces. Thank you to all the World War II veterans, like Dale Porter and John Hawkinson, that I have met around Galesburg, in local factories, and at the railroad in the past thirty-five years. Congratulations on your new memorial in Washington! Thank you for a job well done!