The ID bracelet my father wore during World War II
Some earlier posts on Memorial Day
My father graduated from high school in the middle of the Depression. When war seemed likely, he enlisted and was finally assigned to Diss England as a member of the 351 bomb squadron, 100th Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force. He said later that this was the first steady job he ever had.
My father’s sentiments on his wartime experiences are best exemplified by the following episode: In 1992, the movie Memphis Belle came out. Memphis Belle was about the Eighth Air Force and I thought that my father might want to see it. I asked him if he was going and he sneered and muttered something under his breath. This was my father’s way of saying no.
I asked him why. “God dammit!” he exploded, “How the hell could they make a movie about that? If it was realistic, all they could show would be a crew of young guys crapping in their pants for two hours!”
In later years, I related this story to a retired air force corporal who flew fighter planes in China and Burma during the Second World War, and in Korea and Vietnam, “Your father was right,” he told me.
My father (left) with his brother and sister before he left for boot camp.
His lucky flying charm
A B17 and autographs of the crew
His reward for surviving
His last reunion
Vicky and Milton are my Mother and Father-In-Law. Milton died in 1995 and Vicky passed in May. They were New Yorkers who sought a better life in Baltimore where they moved in the 1950’s. My Sister-In-law still lives there and my husband had to relocate there a couple of weeks ago to take care of her because she is very sick. I wanted to make something special for her.
The picture above is Vicky and Milton on a day trip to Bear Mountain State Park before they got married. She was seventeen and he was barely in his twenties. It was during World II and he had a tour of duty in the Pacific still ahead of him.
I made a polymer clay transfer of a photograph with translucent clay and sandwiched it between two sheets of glass. Then I cut and soldered on channel lead and jump rings for the chain hanger and the heart. I put a patina on the channel lead with gun blue.
I hope she likes it. She is not on the Internet, so it will be a surprise.
One of the goals of my blog is to examine history, personal history and the bigger kind, to see how it impacts our lives, art and creativity. We tend to think of history as something that happens far from us-maybe we catch some of the ripples-but we believe that unless we are very important people or happen to be at a particular place in time, we are never a part of history or a witness to history. We remain unaware of the effect history has in shaping our personality and lives.
I started to examine all of this when I began to delve into the story of my family and interview war veterans about their experiences. I knew when I spoke to them that I would never get the whole story. How could I? It’s terrible to remember such things much less give them new life by saying them out loud, and to a person without a shared experience. Few of us would dare make ourselves that vulnerable.
But it was on this this journey that I began to understand how much of my creativity, my need for a rich fantasy life and my personality comes from my childhood, which was shaped in large part by my father’s personality. I knew he served in World War II, but not much more. Then I came upon this quote from the last chapter of The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien was a World War One veteran and there is a controversy on whether The Lord of the Rings was influenced by his war experiences. This quote erased all my doubts and clarified so much of my father’s personality for me. This, in turn, helped me to understand myself better.
“But,” said Sam, and the tears started in his eyes, “I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.”
“So I thought too, once. But I have been deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger; some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them… [Keep] alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more. And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on.”
Frodo speaking to Sam Gamgee, in The Grey Havens, last chapter of The return of the King, the third book of the Lord of the Rings.
I could see from living with my father that he was “deeply hurt,” and began to understand why. I also began to understand how my personality, creative and otherwise, developed as a way to cope with his. The whole process is, of course, much more complicated, but this should be enough to give you an idea.
On this Memorial Day Weekend 2008, take some time to examine how the experiences of your family members influenced your life and creativity. The answers are not always obvious and you have to dig deep. Do not be afraid to dig. Prepare to be surprised.