Returning to normal
Some days of historical importance stand out in sharp relief in memory while others seem to have been less solidly set and will not come into focus even with concentrated effort. For me, VE Day is that way.
I remember having an assembly abut it at school, but there is no sharp attention-catching moment. I know for instance when and where I heard the news that J.F. Kennedy had been assassinated, the words “The eagle has landed” have a Northern California seacoast background in my mind.
It is not that I was too young in 1945 to remember. Dec. 7, 1941 comes to mind easily, complete with a clear picture of the little mountain cabin and the radio on which my mother and I heard the news. She grew very grave and quietly sent me to get my father, who was working his gold mine on the other side of the river. My family was politically pretty savvy so war in the Pacific was not really a surprise, but the magnitude of the strike on Pearl Harbor was deeply shocking nonetheless. There had been military-training exercises in our area so even for me at the age of 9, there were signs that war would touch us even in our out of the way place on the Middle Yuba.
To those of us who are part of that memory, “The War” means only one war. The Korean intervention, or whatever you choose to call it and in which I served, had very little overall impact here at home. This is true, too, of Vietnam, even considering the political turmoil it brought about. Business went on as usual, and there was no mass shift in work forces or population as came with World War II. Mobilization for the war effort was an everybody thing; from gasoline to sugar everything was rationed. Coupons and tokens, so many for this or that; I still have a jar full to use as poker chips and talk about recycling. Everyone was directed to save everything, especially fat, which was turned into glycerin for explosives. As the war wore on, some homes even in our small towns displayed a certain symbol in a window, and we knew that one of our young men would not be coming home.
I can’t remember VE Day, but I do remember standing in the doorway at The Miners Foundry and watching big guns, artillery pieces or ships rifles being machined. Oh yes, some pretty heavy-duty stuff was made right here in our part of the world. A couple of sons of Camptonville realized a boyhood dream and became fighter pilots and, with permission or not, gave us a fantastic airshow one day at school. Screaming dives, barrel rolls, stalls and loops which probably thrilled them to do as much as it thrilled us to watch. It must have been quite a rush to come back to their little town and two-room school and show their mastery in those silver hot rods of the sky. A little town which from the air is hardly more than an interruption in the forest, a postage stamp place to go from in war and to yearn to return safely home to in one’s dreams.
Letters came from an uncle and cousins sometimes bearing the heavy censor’s mark, but mostly one avoided writing things that were not allowed. Both the uncle and cousins survived, although the one who was an army cook hit just about every beach in that campaign across the South Pacific. Of course we learned of these things only later. The what, when and where were things forbidden in letters, but just to know that a loved one was still able to write home was welcome news. War weary is a term that comes to mind, and by the time the war came to an end in Europe, there was both the great relief and exuberance which I remember hearing about and reading about which took place in the larger cities. But locally I think it was mostly just the great relief. There was the feeling that this is over at last, and there will be no more news of battles fought and cities bombed, no more Life magazine pictures of the horrors of war. There was the anticipation of a return to normalcy and peace.
Optimists believed that after that there could never be another war.
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