I was watching the news this weekend and there was a segment where a baker was demonstrating how to decorate cakes. At the end of her demonstration, she showed off cupcakes that she had decorated especially for Memorial Day. They were bright red, white and aqua blue. Then, with chipper voice she joyously explained that the cupcake icing design resembled fireworks.
Memorial Day is not a day to hold celebrations, in truth, it is a yearly national funeral for our military dead. It is a day of remembrance….of loss…not victory, freedom or national pride. It is the day to think about all of those young men and women whose lives were cut short and whose beautiful bodies were torn, mutilated and so grievousness wounded that they could not survive their injuries. Their trauma and deaths were horrific.
I have been reading the book, “Unbroken”. This book is about World War II soldier Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner, who spent much of World War II as a Japanese Prisoner of War after his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. The brutality of his war experiences are so vividly described as to, at times, seem to be frankly unbelievable.
I do believe them, because I have had the privilege of knowing many veterans both personally and professionally and their stories were oftentimes very similar to Mr. Zamperini’s.
For instance, take my friend El. Now in his nineties, he is the last man left on this side of the turf from his army unit. I first met El on a World War II Honorflight. I was his caregiver and he was one of my folks.
That day as we chatted together, he mentioned that he had once been a Japanese prisoner of war for four hours. I chuckled and said that nobody was a Japanese prisoner of war for a couple of hours, how did he manage that?
He then told me how this happened. His platoon had been ambushed, all of them were killed outright or wounded. For the next several hours Japanese soldiers walked among those American boys, stabbing them with their bayonets to see if anyone was left alive. Any groan that was heard, was quickly followed by a gun shot. El always says the same thing, “Thank, God, I fell on my stomach and that my eyelids never fluttered.”
Then, there was Sid Schmuckler. What a great name! Sid was quite a guy, at over 90 years of age, he still worked every day and drove himself to his office on Minnesota’s freeways in his station wagon. Sid was a navy man and fought in the Pacific. He was a beach commander.
The night before an invasion was launched, he would go ashore to scout the position and help radio our soldiers ashore. He was a beach commander on Iwo Jima and was in a few other very notable battles.
Sid could tell me about boys, who were just his age, that he had seen blown to bits just as matter of fact as if he was describing restaurant menu. He did have this sad chuckle about the ironies of war that he had witnessed.
He once told me about this chaplain that was walking right down the beach on Iwo Jima as it was being heavily shelled and under constant fire by the enemy. From behind their fortified breastworks, he and the soldiers with him screamed at the chaplain to get down! The chaplain, as calm as if he was taking a Sunday stroll, just kept walking down that bomb pocked beach, stopping to check on each wounded, dying or dead soldier in his path.
As they were yelling at the chaplain, the boy next to Sid took a bullet to the head. Still alive, it was immediately determined that his wound was mortal. When the chaplain was much closer to Sid, he was grabbed and thrown behind the breastworks. Sid pointed at the young dying soldier and asked the chaplain, to give the Catholic boy last rites.
The chaplain quickly went about his business. Just as he concluded, the young soldier breathed his last. As he closed the boy’s eyes the chaplain said, “I hope his Catholic mama never learns that a Rabi administered her son’s last rites.” Before anyone could detain him, the chaplain quickly leaped from relative safety of the breastworks and continued his mission of mercy on that beach.
However, there was one war story that brought instant tears to Sid’s eyes. He was back on his ship, the war nearly over, and they were smack dab in the middle of the entire Pacific armada with vast air power protecting the fleet. American air superiority was so complete that even Kamikaze’s were no longer considered much of a threat. He finally felt safe from the enemy.
The ship next to his was a hospital ship. That evening, the deck of the hospital ship was brightly lit as the nurses and doctors operated feverishly to save the lives of wounded soldiers.
Sid was on the deck of his ship watching the hospital ship when one lone blip showed up on his ship’s radar. It was determined that it had to be an American plane….it wasn’t. The Kamikaze pilot targeted the hospital ship. His plane crashed onto the ship’s deck and burst into flames as it skidded across the top of the entire ship. I can still hear the despair in Sid’s voice as he described the horrific scene, “He killed all of the nurses, those girls, those girls, they all died!”
Memorial Day is set aside for us to think about human cost of war and to solemnly remember and honor our nation’s military dead and their families.
It is not about ……cupcakes