Indigo Insights

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

By the end of Band of Brothers, my head was so full of flashbacks from WWII, I could have written a book about the homefront during the war. It was just a fleeting thought, though. Right now, I have neither the time nor inclination to start another book. Still, a couple of WWII memories would fill some blogging space, and I haven't written anything in a while. Somewhere, lost in the un-indexed mess that is Indigo Insights archives, are a couple of childhood war memories, but Band of Brothers brought a flood of stories to mind.

Mother was very active in the Volunteer Civilian Defense Army. She served in many endeavors for the War Effort, as did most women of the time. Women organized and ran community collection drives (almost anything was needed), promoted and circulated emergency instructions, donated time to the Red Cross, and were regular volunteers in the airplane watch for the Civil Defense program. In some of these campaigns, I was her "assistant". My favorite job was airplane watch.

A little one-room building had been constructed (by the townspeople) to use as the "look-out" center for air defense. It was "manned" by women during the day and the men who were still left in town covered the night shift. This was a 24-7 activity, tightly scheduled, and nobody, NOBODY, was late relieving the last watcher. The inside of the little building was "wallpapered" with posters showing pictures with identifying information of our enemies' air planes. The red circle of the Rising Sun is still in technicolor in my memory bank. Although there was little chance of a Japanese plane making it to the coast of North Carolina, the Jap planes were the most feared by us children because we knew they were the ones who had attacked Pearl Harbor. I remember some children running screaming into their houses when any plane flew overhead. There was terror in our country.

There was a telephone installed in the little Air Defense building, and on several occasions, when a plane flew over, Mother called "an unknown entity of power" to report and identify it. This was a big thing in my child's mind. So there we were. Mother and I alone in the little building for hours of total silence. Talking was very limited because it could interfere with hearing an approaching plane. Mother watched the skies with binoculars; I usually brought a book along to read after I tired of studying the posters of enemy planes. This may sound amusing today, but it was dead serious stuff during the war years. It was, in fact, the nation's first line of defense.

As far as I know, an enemy plane never came near the North Carolina coast. But submarines were a different matter altogether. There were sightings of German U-boats right off the coast from where I live. A few battles in which subs were sunk were watched from the shore by Carteret County inhabitants. Wreckage, oil, and bodies littered the beaches later. Of course, this information was kept secret until many years after the end of the war. No one broke the vow of silence. There are still graves of German submariners in Beaufort cemetery. When the bodies washed onto shore, they were given a decent, Christian burial. I suppose those events occurred during Operation Drumbeat. A few years ago, German relatives of the submariners came to Beaufort to visit the graves of their loved ones. I believe some of the remains were taken back to Germany to be interred in the mother soil. This was widely reported in state news media at the time, but I can find no reference to it in a Google cursory scan.

On November 15, 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman, said to Atlanta : "War is Hell" - and then went on to prove his point. Having seen Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan and other such realistic war movies, this would appear to be a universally held belief. War still is hell. It is hell to lose one single life in the cause of freedom. It is happening daily now in Iraq and I hurt and pray for each and every family that is in pain. It was hell for Easy Company. It was hell on the day of the invasion of Iwo Jima when 2,421 Marines were killed or wounded that very first day. Four thousand, seventy-four Marines KIA in the three weeks it took to take the island. Was the victory worth those American lives? The rawest Marine recruit will tell you "affirmative" because they know - Freedom is not free.