Monday, May 28, 2007

Memories of Memorial Days Past

By Paul


I grew up in a small town in central Pennsylvania. It was dairy farming country, a place of pure Americana in the 1950's. I don't know what it's like now, but when I was a small boy, Memorial Day was celebrated -- really celebrated, as a day for honoring those who had fought for our country.

The town's two police cars, with lights flashing, led the parade down Main Street. The volunteer fire department, all two engines and a water truck, followed. The high school band, noisy but not especially talented, marched in their spats and kelly green uniforms. You expected Professor Harold Hill to be leading them.

Veterans of the Korean conflict and World War II marched out-of-step, their uniforms pulled too tight over sagging paunches. From the backseats of shiny new convertibles, loaned for the day by the local Ford dealer, World War I vets waved to the folks on the sidewalk. There were two or three Spanish-American War veterans. They rode, too, wearing fedoras, as I recall.

My father, Stan Levine, had been the radar officer on a B-29 that was shot down over Yawata, Japan near the end of the war. As a surviving POW, he was afforded the honor of leading the military contingent each year. I remember the pride I felt as he tooted the silver whistle, and his men started and stopped, more-or-less following his commands.
THE CREW OF THE "SAD TOMATO" From left, standing, 2nd Lt. Stan Levine, 1st Lt. Walter Ross, 1st Lt. George Keller, 2nd Lt. Eugene Correll, and 2nd Lt. Carl Holden. Kneeling, Sgt. Martin Zapf, Sgt. Gerald Blake, Sgt. Christine Nikitas, Sgt. Robert Conley, T/Sgt. Shelby Fowler, and Sgt. Travers Harman. (All, except Lt. Keller, the pilot, survived the war. He was killed when his parachute failed to open as the crew bailed out of their flaming aircraft over the Sea of Japan).

From Main Street, the parade headed up the hill to the town cemetery. There, a local minister delivered a benediction, the mayor said a few words, a bugler played Taps, and vets from the local VFW post fired a 21-gun salute. Afterwards, most of the men, tuckered out by the long walk, headed to the American Legion hall for some brewed refreshments. But the spirit of the day was one of solemnity and remembrance.

On this Memorial Day, I offer my heartfelt thanks to all the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and hope for their speedy and safe return.

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  1. Perfectly said, Paul.

    Jim Born

  2. I agree with Jim. Perfectly said.

    We always went to the cemetery on Memorial Day and laid flowers on the graves of our ancesters. That's hard to do in today's society when families are spread out all over the world.

  3. Yes, Paul, perfectly said. My Uncle Tom (Reilly) piloted a B-29, and wouldn't talk about his experiences--too hard for him to think about the friends and comrades all around him lost by attack planes, anti-aircraft fire, shells hitting bombs about to be released from the open bays. Brought his plane with over 300 hits back from a mission. We only heard some of his stories from my aunt and Uncle Tom's brother, Uncle Jim. I don't know when he told them or much he told them, but it was privately done.

    Few seem to honor warriors, field or desk, anymore. We were the only ones in a large neighborhood to fly a flag this weekend. Makes you wonder.

    Tom, T.O.

  4. Tom,
    I'd forgotten all about the flags. People had flagpole holders attached to the houses and, in our case, recessed into the sidewalk. Every Memorial Day and July 4, flags fluttered in the breeze.

  5. Every Memorial Day we drove to my grandmother's house in Western Pennsylvania and took her out to my uncle's grave. I remember all the tiny flags over the field, hundreds of them, and the lines of cars, all the families laying flowers on the headstones of the boys.

    They're gone now, my father and grandmother, and I live hundreds of miles to the south. I wonder who takes care of those graves of all those boys who remain young in their pictures, proud in their uniforms, eager to be off to see the elephant.

    I can't even write about my friends' names on the wall. I still see their faces, 35 years later, and it's too hard.

    Children. We send children. We should run things backwards, let the children have their time and send just us old men.

    There would be far fewer wars I expect. Far fewer.

  6. Beautifully said, Paul. And all of you for remembering what remembering is really all about.

    David: oh, too true, too true.

    I'm proud to know you people. :-)

    I have a military history - both familial and personal - and my husband had a brother and a father serve in two of the worst battles in history: the Battle of the Bulge, and Hamburger Hill. Bob learned the truth about war and combat at a very early age, and neither of us holds any starstruck illusions about either. I wish the same could be said about many people we know. All I can say is, that I'm glad that we don't have to wait 30-40 years to find out the horrors that our armed forces personnel face during conflicts they're sent to - but to learn now, and help them all we can.

    A heartfelt Memorial Day to all.


  7. How incredible to find pictures of my late grandfather and his old B-29 crew being honored online. I have to make one correction however. His name should read "Christus Nikitas." Same as mine. Third from the left in the front row. Thanks so much for posting this!