I am trying desperately to watch Ken Burns’ “The War,” although I miss bits and pieces of it as phones ring, the doorbell rings, people visit and the dogs go on their multitudinous trips in and out of the back door.
Always fascinated with World War II due to the bedtimes stories of my father, the late William Baar, to see it all at one time and in one place is exceptional. I liked Ken Burns’ “Civil War” and “The War” is every bit as good, though a tad less romantic, because we have all known people who served in WWII. This latest Burns work concentrates on small-town America and how it reacted to WWII because of the boys from the neighborhood who were sent to foreign shores to fight. Unlike today’s war in Iraq, everyone had a vested interest in WWII.
I was too small to have known what was going on in the world when WWII was in play. My father met me when I was 6 months old; he was overseas when I was born. He did not reconnect with me until I was 3 years old.
I can remember the framed photo of the man in uniform near my crib so that I would be familiar with the missing daddy. Frankly, any man who might have come by in a uniform would have probably filled the bill for me, as the uniform equaled Daddy.
With more than 1,000 to 1,500 persons who served in WWII dying daily, the oral history of that momentous conflict which reshaped the world is quickly coming to a close. All the more reason it is important that we get the voices and stories of those who served down on tape as quickly as possible. I did that with my father and got bits and pieces of history I never would have gotten in any other way.
The official Army Air Corps photos he brought back are now safely in the Dayton Air Museum in Ohio. They showed his handiwork in planning bombing missions. He was a member of the 9th Air Force, which sent medium bombers over enemy lands. As dad grew older, the stories became more and more embellished until I could not be sure as to what really happened overseas in France, England and Belgium. But some of the earlier tales left their mark.
It was great to think of them, now, while watching the stories of others play out in Burns’ WWII epic. For instance, my mother often laughed at the early letters of my father’s enlistment where he objected to having to drink out of a tin cup. Apparently, he learned how, especially after being given KP (kitchen police) duties where he had to skin potatoes for the mess hall, something he never would have considered doing at home.
I have dad’s letters to mom, but not her answers. He notes that his mother and sisters do not think it is fitting for her to be running around showing real estate while baby Judy is at home with Grandma.
He says he will come home and take over the real estate office my mother founded, Mom will be relegated to the house and they will use the phone so Mom can tell Dad how to handle real estate transactions.
Judging by the 45 years the two of them spent working together in real estate, Mom never returned to the home and Dad’s mother and sisters were vetoed. You have to remember that in the early 1940s-there were no women in real estate, and my mother was breaking some pretty entrenched glass ceilings.
My father played a mean piano. If you hummed it, he could play it. On the troop ship going over to Europe, the officers aboard found about the enlisted men’s talent show in which my father participated. They wanted him to put on the show for the officers, which he said he would do-provided that the officers would give the players access to fresh water showers and dinner in the officers’ mess on a white tablecloth. Dad was a bit of an elitist, no matter where he was.
But that did not prevent him from putting on talent shows to get food and money for the French elderly he came across in French old people’s homes which had no heat and no provisions. He described them as huddled under feather blankets in the midst of winter just trying to keep warm and alive.
And then there was the French thank you to the American troops at the Paris Opera, where, in the midst of winter, lightly clad singers performed “Samson and Delilah.” You could see their breath in the cold of the opera house, he told me as the soldiers sat in the cushy opera seats in their big, bulky wool overcoats.
Yes, all who served had so many stories. It would be such a good idea for families to watch “The War” together so as to discuss what they are seeing, maybe compare it to today’s war and warfare in general. This is all about “The Greatest Generation,” soon to be leaving us for good.
It would be a pity to see them pass without some recollection of what they went through, what they did and why our world is a better place because of them. If Grandma and Grandpa are still around, it might be a good time to bring them into a family viewing, thus generating their remembrances.