Wednesday, January 18, 2012
MY FIRST MEETING WITH DEATH
They shot twenty-one times. They were soldiers dressed in uniforms and had real guns. It was scary and the loud booming noise hurt my ears. I thought it would never end. Why did they do this, I wondered. Several airplanes flew above and I didn't know where they were going, but they flew right over our heads. We were gathered together around a freshly dug grave in an Oklahoma City Cemetery. Above the grave was a casket with a large American flag that covered it. Inside the casket was my mother's friend, who had died overseas in a European battle.
Mother told me this was a great honor to her friend who died in the Battle of the Bulge, in Germany, the month of December, 1944. This was my first experience with death. And it was close to a year after my mother left her Rosie's job and months after my sister Karen was born.
President Franklin Roosevelt died only a few months later in April 1945. We saw pictures of him in the news reels that revealed a thin sick looking man. I thought it difficult to believe a president could die. Everyone I knew considered him a very beloved president so it was a sad time in history, especially in my family. I heard people give him credit for bringing the war to an end. I didn't understand why he died.
In May of 1945, German forces surrendered and on May 8th the allies of Europe celebrated the victory and it was called V.E. Day. In my neighborhood the children on my street celebrated, as well. I remember shouting with glee, "The War is Over". I joined other children on the street and we made a happy parade. I don't know whose idea it was, but we grabbed utensils from our mother's kitchen and made as much noise as we could, marching up and down the sidewalks in front of our houses, singing and shouting, "The war is over. The war is over." I had a metal pot that I banged with a big spoon.
One morning, "The Daily Oklahoman"was delivered to our house. It was filled with war pictures. Some were very graphic. The most graphic was a picture on the front page revealing a large stack of very thin naked human bodies. They were pictures taken by the allies when they entered the Holocaust concentration camps in Germany. History tells us that Eisenhower told the troops to take as many pictures as they could because the world may forget this happened or refuse to believe it.
I had never seen dead bodies in a photo or in real life, so it made a huge impression on me. My mother explained that this was the reason the War was fought. She told me a very mean man, named Hitler, was responsible for those terrible deaths and millions of others. When she told me Hitler died (he committed suicide in Germany the month before), I was relieved. She folded the newspaper and said, "This is a very important time in our history. I will save this newspaper for your children."
Although I had learned about death by attending the military grave site ceremony and I saw dead bodies in the newspaper at the end of the war, in my little heart and mind, I thought we would all be safe from then on. I was finishing the first grade and I believed we would live happily ever after. How naive I was. My life seemed to take sharp turns and begin to evolve in a new direction, during this period of time, at the end of world War ll.