Remember the teenage warriors
By Darlene Warren
BIG SANDY, Texas--Something happened recently that reminded me of a time long past. My family and I had the great honor of entertaining in our home two gentlemen who also happen to be World War II veterans. I should say they entertained us, or, better yet, they educated us. For an all too brief time they took us back to their teenage years. Hearing about their younger years made me reflect on mine.
The entire span of my teenage years was spent with the Vietnam War as a backdrop. Images of Vietnam were omnipresent, whether on television, in newspapers or on our school campuses. I remember arriving at school one day to learn that a classmate's brother had been killed in the war.
At such times the school seemed to fold in upon itself in mourning. Conversely, everyone rejoiced when Mrs. Harper's (she was my eighth-grade American-history teacher) husband returned from active duty dressed in full uniform, bringing with him color slides from Southeast Asia.
She was so happy. She was one of the lucky ones. She didn't mind one bit the slides of Ann-Margret entertaining the troops. Her soldier had made it back home, and that's all that mattered.
Get in or get out
With the war escalating, the months turned into years without any progress being made. Thousands of bodies returned stateside to grieving families, and our country began falling apart. Anger and frustration unleashed themselves in the form of student riots and demonstrations.
Becoming just as familiar as the images of war were the images of the antiwar movement. As the war dragged on, most Americans had chosen a side. They considered themselves either a hawk or a dove. The hawks said, "Get in, bomb, and get out." The doves said, "Stop the killing now, and bring our boys home."
As a young person attending the Radio/Worldwide Church of God during that time, I was fully aware of our stand against serving in the armed forces. Long before our young men reached the age of 18, their conscientious-objector's status had been formally compiled and filed with the U.S. government.
Most had recited and had been rehearsed in how to address a draft board regarding their stance against going to war and against even serving in a noncombatant area.
There is no way of knowing how many Americans actually fled the country for Canada, but I know of several who spent time in Big Sandy, Texas, serving out their term on the 1-W program.
The 1-W program allowed those who refused to serve in the armed services to serve their time out by volunteering to work in an educational or nonprofit facility.
These men had their own battle to fight, and they did it with courage and dignity. They stood up for their beliefs as valiantly as those who served overseas.
We praise our children, and rightly so, when they take a stand for something they believe in. Thank God that most of them have only had to decide whether to play basketball on Friday night.
It was certainly a horrible time in our history. But, then, war is always horrible.
Reveille with Beverly
The men I referred to earlier were Jim Ussery and Jack Martz. Both southern boys left the security and safety of their respective Arkansas farms to fight in World War II. Jack talked of time spent in New Guinea clearing jungle with bulldozers and laying down metal-locking grids that served as airstrips so our planes would have a place to land.
Jack said, "We had a job to do, so we just did it." He told of how he and his comrades were instructed not to shoot at any movement or sound in the surrounding brush at night. That was one method the enemy snipers used to try to determine the Allies' position.
At daylight the entire area was immediately sprayed with machine-gun fire. This was called "Reveille with Beverly."
As the War was wrapping up, Jack was sent to the Philippines. He told of flushing out the Japanese who had fled into the mountains to hide. Groups of American soldiers would cover fellow GIs who advanced until they were close enough to scorch enemy caves with flamethrowers. He was 18 when he came to the South Pacific.
Deserted at basic training
Jim told of arriving at San Diego, Calif., for boot camp, riding through camp in huge trucks all the while listening to the men who had already been there a while tauntingly shouting up to them, "You'll be sorry!"
After settling into their barracks, they were to report to the mess hall. While they were there the announcement came over the loudspeaker that Japan had surrendered.
The place went wild. Everyone there, men and officers included, rushed down to the beach to celebrate--that is, everyone but the new recruits.
"We were green as grass and didn't know what to do," Jim remembers. They listened to the whooping and hollering down on the beach for three days before anyone remembered them.
The officers eventually returned, and order was restored. The war may have ended, but there was still plenty of work to do. Jim spent the next 21 years in the U.S. Navy.
Several schools in East Texas have instituted a special assembly on Veterans Day to honor our veterans, living and dead. The purpose of these programs is not to glorify war, but to recognize and honor the men and women who served their country during wartime.
I am amazed at the rapt attention of student bodies during these assemblies. The roll call is an especially moving ceremony. It somehow places in perspective our petty present-day problems. The thousands of men and women who served our country during wartime have so much to tell us if we'll just take the time to listen.
Some facts you just can't get from a textbook. Feelings don't translate. If we don't revive the memories of those times, our children and grandchildren will never know about those who sacrificed so much for so many.
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