A few days ago was America’s birthday. Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is the most celebrated birthday in the United States, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. We declared our independence from the United Kingdom, known then as the Kingdom of Great Britain.
It was celebrated in “Happy Birthday fashion” with patriotic displays, parades, political speeches, barbecues, picnics, and other celebrations. We still live up to the letter that John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail the first of July, 1776 in which he stated, “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
Then he went on to state, “It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”
In the midst of our festivities, let us never forget the price that has been paid for our freedom. Our liberty has been bought with a great price; the blood of our soldiers and the sacrifices that were made. From the beginning of time, there have always been wars, bloodshed, and the death of millions. It doesn’t really touch us until we, and our families, are personally involved.
My Uncle Enos was in the First World War, and Mom used to tell us of how the whole family was so worried about him. There was a family tale handed down of how his picture fell off the wall, and they were sure it was a “token.” They prayed daily for him, and he returned unscathed to marry and father twelve children. Many, many others were not so fortunate, and never returned.
World War II was nearer home, however, and I have memories of that. We were so proud of Cousin Leo who enlisted in the Marines; who distinguished himself as many of our West Virginia boys did. He won the expert marksman medal, along with other honors. We children were fiercely patriotic, and marched around singing The Marine’s Hymn– “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli; We will fight our country’s battles, In the air, on land and sea. First to fight for right and freedom, And to keep our honor clean; We are proud to claim the title of the United States Marine.”
It was more like a game to us, although the grown-ups around us worried and wept and prayed for our boys overseas. Every day we heard of causalities and deaths; battles that raged and telegrams from the War Department that brought grief and heartache. I remember some of the slogans that were circulated during that time such as “Loose lips sink ships”and “Buy War Bonds!” Posters were everywhere. There were scads of enlistment posters for each branch of the military, and women began enlisting. Many women chose to work in defense factories, and with food shortages they were urged to plant Victory Gardens. A lot of foods were scarce, and ration stamps were issued.
One of the songs that the “Dig for Victory” campaign was sung was this:
Dig! Dig! Dig! and your muscles will grow big
Keep on pushing the spade
Don’t mind the worms
Just ignore their squirms
And when your back aches, laugh with glee-
And keep on diggin’
Till we give our foes a Wiggin’
Dig! Dig! Dig! to Victory!
There are many today who doubtless have vivid memories of World War II days –days we hope will never be repeated.
The Korean War came too close to home. I was never really affected until my childhood love enlisted at 17—just a green country boy fresh from the hills of Clay County. A fine, handsome soldier he made, straight and tall in his uniform. We exchanged many letters, and he was lonely, sometimes scared, and terribly homesick. He missed the family, and familiar things of home. He wrote wistful letters, remembering the simple things of boyhood. War had suddenly become a terrible reality to me.
In February, he wrote that he would be home before the leaves turned again. He talked about the hills of Korea, but he said they were nothing like ours. In April, he wrote, “The flowers are blooming over here now. They’re beautiful. They remind me of home. I get sort of a lost feeling when I see where everything has been torn up by shells and bombs. I guess it can’t be helped, but it seems such a shame that things so beautiful as flowers and trees should be destroyed, and all because of a silly war.
“I thought I knew what it was all about when we first came over here, but I’m beginning to wonder now. I have been overseas for almost a year, and I hope you won’t think that I’m feeling sorry for myself. I am proud to do what little I could do to help. I know that I am no better than many others who have fought and even died over here. But is it worth it? Sometimes I wonder . . ”
He did come home before the leaves turned. He was killed in action May 30, 1953. He will forever be 18 years and 10 months old. The old sorrow still fills my heart when I think of him. It is because of him and many, many more like him that we have the liberty that we enjoy. How can we not honor them?