05-25-2017 Tri-City Area History Page

Red Umphrey and early Coloma fire truck

North Berrien Historical Museum is always interested in photos, stories or information sharing.  The museum can be contacted at 269-468-3330 or by email to info@northberrienhistory.org.

From the photo collection at the North Berrien Historical Museum

300 Coloma Avenue, Coloma

The Paw Paw River Journal

Thoughts on Memorial Day

We have come to that time of year again.  Memorial Day is approaching.  Somehow every year this holiday becomes a little more bittersweet.  Perhaps because every year we have lost more people from what Tom Brokaw referred to as “The Greatest Generation.”  I don’t know that we deserve all that much praise, but those are his words.

I tried to find out just how many of us participated in “The Big One,” as Archie Bunker referred to World War II.  The statistics all disagree.  Near as I can figure there were about 16 million of us involved in that grand scuffle.  And around 300,000 died in the process.  That’s a lot of people!   But wait… even more dramatic are the casualty figures since then!  In 2008, statisticians figured that there were 2.5 million of us left… and our ranks were being thinned out at the rate of about 1,000 per day!  Does that rattle the bars of your cage?  Perhaps… if, like me, you are one of the surviving ones!  But on the other hand, as Mark Twain noted: “Old age isn’t so bad, when you consider the alternative!”

So how do we stand, overall, on surviving veterans? From World War I there can’t be any left.  The last one I knew personally was Seward “Pep” Lightner.  We visited him and his lovely wife, Mil, out in Sparta, North Carolina.  They lived just off the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway.  Pep, born in 1899, told me he wanted to live with his feet planted in three centuries, and he almost made it… slipping out of this life in 1999.

World War II vets must be at the youngest, pushing 90!  This is my generation as I have mentioned above.  Korean War vets must be almost 80.  Vietnam survivors have to be in their early 60s, and those from the first Gulf War must be pushing 40.  So there is the run down.

Our generation still has quite a large group… even though our ranks have been severely thinned out.  A good friend of ours, Historian Sherrill Aberg, once said, “Did you ever stop to think… The U.S. Government took thousands of young guys, many 18-20 years old, and flung them all over the world… and they saved it. And most of them came back.”  Yes, it was pretty amazing.  But just about all of my friends are gone now… including that historian, Sherrill Aberg.

Most of us did get back.  Except for the ones we lost… and they are with me forever.  Most of my friends when I was overseas were older and had been there for a while.  I guess us green horns were to be tucked in among the old timers where we could do the least damage.  Many of them were in their 30s.  That means if they are still alive somewhere in these United States, they would have to be around 100.  I have lost track of them… all of them.

We lived in tents, ate in mosquito-netted mess halls (often powdered eggs, scrambled, and pancakes with orange marmalade).  We flew over the highest mountains in the world… The Hump… in every imaginable kind of weather.  We took Atabrine tablets that made our skin yellow and were supposed to suppress malaria symptoms.  They did not keep me from getting the tropical bug that sent me home on a hospital ship after the war ended.  And I know I had it not one tenth as bad as many of our guys had it in WWII.

The guys I knew back then could not really articulate any grand idea of patriotism.  At some basic level we fought, or did whatever we did, because we would die before we would let our friends down… and some of us died.  I never saw a Japanese soldier face to face, except as they were prisoners.  I did not hate them then… or now.  But something deep in my psyche tells me not to buy Japanese cars… and I know most of them are manufactured right in this country.

One abiding theme for all of us in that war, I guess in any war… Oh, if I can only get home, everything will be perfect.  We all held onto that.  If and when I get home… If this war ever ends.  Millions of letters to all of us… and millions of letters sent home.  Eloquent and burning with passion.  But when the war did end… and we all got back, everything was not perfect.  It could not be so… because no matter how hard or easy we had it… war had brutalized us all.  We had forever been changed, and an innocence taken away from us.  Some guys came home to heartbreak… some caused it!  I’ve mentioned this before, but the incomparable Billie Holliday had a song, “Good Morning, Heartache, Walk Right in.”  And it did… for some.

We all had to struggle to adjust to civilian life again.  Many women on the home front had gone into industry, and they found they could earn a living… some would never again be satisfied with the role of homemaker.  All of us had to adjust, and I can look back now and see how I had to become a civilian again… How much worse for those in fierce fighting!

What finally accomplished it for us?  Sunsets, screened back porch evenings, picnics, careers, and above all family and friends.  All the people in our lives… my Chief Accountant (she deserves much of the credit), our children, grandchildren and all of their people who have become our people.  Friends from old times and newly made… and in my case the students who impacted my life all through my teaching career.

Those things made the difference for our survival from those days, and helped us to spend years weaving golden threads into the tapestry of our lives in these storybook towns along the Paw Paw River.

Watervliet District Library News

 The Library will be closed Monday, May 29, 2017 in observance of Memorial Day.

LEGO donations needed – any and all LEGOS you don’t use anymore. Bring them to the library.

Toddler Time – Tuesdays, 10:30 a.m. through May; thirty minutes of music, stories and activities for little ones age 18 – 36 months designed to inspire the love of books and learning.

Teen Table for May – Fridge Magnet Poems – noun, verb, article and adjective magnets at your disposal to create a poem on their metal slate, and share your awesome!!

Yoga – Monday morning at 9:00 and Wednesday evening at 7:00.

Michigan Notable Book Tour will grace the library on June 26, 2017 with Dustin M. Hoffman, author of “One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist: Stories” winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. He brings to life the narratives of Midwestern blue-collar workers. Readers are invited to peek behind the curtain of the invisible, but ever-present, “working stiff” as Hoffman reveals their lives in full complexity, offering their gruff voices without censorship. Yet many will identify with the characters at the heart of these stories that work with their hands and strive to escape invisibility while never losing sight of their own human value.

Coloma Library News

Memorial Day closings

Library will be closed Saturday, May 27, Sunday, May 28 and Monday, May 29 to celebrate Memorial Day. Regular hours will resume on Tuesday, May 30. Have a safe and happy weekend!

Summer Reading Club

“Build a Better World… READ!!”

Readers of all ages are invited to explore how books can be used to “Build a Better World” during the Summer Reading Program. The 2017 Summer Reading Program is open to young people, babies through young adult, with programs, prize drawings, storytimes, a reading club and more. Registration for “Build a Better World” begins on June 5. For more information, call the library at 468-3431 or visit www.colomapubliclibrary.net.

Book Club

The Coloma Library Book Club is meeting on Thursday, June 8 at 5:30 p.m. The title to read before the discussion is “Physics of the Future” by Michio Kaku.  Generally, depending on demand there are titles available for check-out at the front desk. The book club regularly meets every other Thursday and is always looking for new members.

Story Hour

Story Hour meets on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. Join Miss Amy for a story, craft and song time. Story Hour is a free weekly program for toddlers and preschool-aged children, it does not require sign-up.