02-02-2017 Tri-City Area History

The Paw Paw River Journal


We watched the world fall apart

The watershed in the lives of my generation has to be World War II.  Of course, I’m thinking of those of us who were alive at that time.  The days before and the days after that are clearly divided! And I would not trade that knowledge for a million dollars.  What the heck, let’s say for a billion dollars (a million is just not the staggering figure it used to be!)  That’s what made us and the world as it is today.  For good or bad!

We were just kids, doing the millions of things kids always did.  We went to school in the big old brick building in Hartford right where Red Arrow Elementary stands today.  In cold weather, the big windows were drafty, and in hot weather we sweated.  And we learned. We worried about grades, and bullies, and whether the other kids liked us or not.

We wore regular shoes, or real tennis shoes.  My Dad always wondered how I could wear out my shoes so fast.  Well, we were pretty active.  And in cold weather a lot of us guys wore high-top boots.  Often on the side of them was a little pocket for a jackknife.  We all had jackknives too… no thought of them as weapons either.

When we were not in school, we worked at part-time jobs (if we had to) or played imaginary games… cowboys, pirates, airplane jockeys, or we built imaginary space ships.  I had the best place in the world for our neighborhood kids to play.  My Dad owned and operated the Hartford greenhouses.  Next door he planned to build two more of them, but the depression knocked that out of the ballpark.  Half completed, the place was a whole field full of boards, bricks, and cement blocks, to construct our play areas.

One platform stood about 15-feet high. Built for working on the high parts of the new greenhouses, it was now useless.  We turned it into a fort.  Protected on all sides by boxes, we were holed up there with only eagles for company (we pretended) and buckets of water to repel invaders, and rubber band zip guns.  We were never attacked… but we were ready, just in case.

That was then.  On Sunday, December 7, 1941, I was now old enough to be a drugstore cowboy.  And a bunch of us were playing the pinball machine in Clark’s Drugstore when news came over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. Right there… then… that was the watershed moment. But we never realized it… went right on with our pinball games.

For a while we coasted on as civilians. Then the war began to become very real with no car tires, gas rationing, food rationing, and a nationwide speed limit of 35 mph. Can you believe that? America had gone to war. And the older kids were gradually disappearing into the armed forces.  Life was never to be the same again.

Finally it came to my time… all of my friends and I either enlisted or was drafted and off to war and a hurry-up maturing into whatever we were going to be. Never to be the same again, most of us got through those perilous times and came home to start our families… and get back to civilian life that for some would never to be as great as they dreamed!

And that watershed moment when the Japanese took away our innocence and brought us crashing into the modern world is still reverberating in our lives. Because then we made some mistakes. We all know in abstract it is the fire that tempers steel. But we had suffered through some horrible times.  And too many people vowed that their children would never go through what we had to go through.

That was not the best course of action. Look what happened when that postwar generation grew up.  They fought another war that was in the wrong time and place.  Some vowed they would never fight in it and went to Canada.  Those times are now mostly past us… except in the minds and hearts of those who had to serve. And the skipper-outers… later some admitted that it was not so much a high-minded philosophy as the fear of having their butts shot off!  But we’re past that.  Except some friends of ours are still suffering from the lingering effects of Agent Orange and postwar stress.

Now guess what! That postwar generation is running our country!  How well, I leave to your political orientation. One thing for sure… there is an awakening of people who now realize that the fat is in the fire… the baby was thrown out with the bath water… and our country is in deep doo-doo.

Will we survive? I believe we will… as surely as I can see evidence that many people still have bedrock honesty.  Situational ethics will not get us out of this one. Oh no… it’s back to the fire and tempering the steel that has to be in our upcoming generations. A young lady of our acquaintance says she has thought about this a lot.  She says that Americans are 10th frame bowlers.  We will awaken and bring honesty and clarity to government.

We shall see if that happens. Can we all get together and continue on with the great promise our country offered us? Some are still dragging their feet. Much of our media still seems to be stuck in trying to make our recent election not legal. But outgoing Vice-President Joe Biden said in a speech to C