On this Memorial Day 2011, two wars draw our young servicemen and women into harm’s way, even as we remember those who have fallen in all our previous conflicts. Today, it is an all-volunteer force which fights on our behalf in Iraq and Afghanistan, all but separated from the vast majority of Americans in whose name they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. A generation ago, it was a drafted army that connected Americans of all socio-economic strata, which ultimately caused the country to come to political terms with its aims in Vietnam.
I am the son of two World War II veterans, one from Poland, the other from America. In their time, there was no separation of purpose, nor a coming to political terms with the conflict before them. How unified was the nation, how willing America’s sons were to march into battle, and why, is captured movingly in the following letter my father wrote to his mother as he shipped out to the battlefields of Europe 67 years ago.
July 4, 1944
Somewhere on the Atlantic
As the heading shows, we are finally at sea, and I sort of think now I should like to have been a sailor. I can easily see how the old mariners loved it. I’ve stood on the top deck late at night, and stared at nothing but the sea and the sky, and haven’t ceased to marvel at the sight.
I have read a few good books, and recently saw Bing Crosby’s new show “Going My Way”. It was splendid, a very sweet story told in a gentle manner that became it. Bing is an accomplished actor, and his cast was superb. Don’t miss it.
In its title song is one phrase, “Sunday morning in my heart”. It made me think of you, for you have always had Sunday morning in your heart.
While I know that you don’t like this, it is the only thing wrong that I can find with the news of our sailing. Selfishly speaking, it pleases me very much. It is what I’ve wanted for some time. It sort of gives me a feeling of solidity, like a real soldier, and a chance to say thanks to this old world for all it has done for me. You see, all of your kids have had childhoods that were the most beautiful things in the world. And all because of you and Pop. You were free to bring us up in that enchanted land of Tom Sawyer, Peter Pan, and Winken, Blinken and Nod. You’d want me to maybe help a little to see that little (niece) Kathy, and all those like her, had the same chance. I feel, I almost know, that deep down within your heart that has Sunday morning in it, you want me to do my part, though it is yours that is hard.
I have always known how deeply I love you and my family, and yet knowing you’d rather I didn’t go just gives me another chance to show you how much I do love you.
My dreams of life
are much the same
as those, I feel, you’ve dreamt.
There is nothing about them very plain
except in the manner in which they are spent.
Here I find I am extravagant,
for I give them all away,
in exchange for the
muse newly sent with a dream
to be dreamt today.
And so I grieve not
when off my dreams soar
to winds of every direction.
I fear I might find each a bore
but naught for its own perfection.
All my love, Isham
We lost Pop May 10, 2010, and Mom, who fought in vain for Poland’s freedom, in April 2009. They are buried together at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
May they, and all whose devotion to country, steered them to shores not of their choosing, to face enemies not of their making, be held in the gentle graces of a unity as yet of our knowing.