Patriot State

Back when my wife and I lived on the West Coast, we had a neighbor who planted a “victory garden” in their front yard.  The houses on our block were small and close together, so the postage-stamp spaces in front allowed for modest landscaping at best.  There we were, nineteen neatly-mowed little lawns and one wildly out-of-control victory garden.  One of these things was not like the others.

Thankfully, victory gardens carry more significance than the presence of hippies next-door (who knows what was in that garden).  Victory gardens were originally planted during World War I to reduce pressure on the public food supply.  The gardens were also considered a morale booster for citizens supporting the war effort back home.  In that context, it’s nice to see an occasional victory garden around my neighborhood today.

Three days ago – the second Monday in August – the United States celebrated Victory Day, commemorating Japan’s surrender to the Allies at the end of World War II.  On second thought I shouldn’t say “United States”, because forty-nine of fifty states ignore V-Day altogether.  The only state still recognizing Victory Day?  Small but steadfast Rhode Island.  Since 1975, when Arkansas dropped its “World War II Memorial Day”, Rhode Island stands alone.

“The Ocean State” has good reason to continue its jubilant celebrations.  92,000 of its residents served in WWII alone (more than 1 in 10), and almost 2,200 were killed.  Rhode Island is the smallest U.S. state in size and the eighth-least populated, yet the proportion of participants in “The Good War” was far higher than most other states.  Perhaps that’s because Rhode Island hosted several armed encampments.  Perhaps that’s because of patriotism born from the first of the thirteen colonies to declare independence.

Victory Day was originally labelled V-J Day or “Victory over Japan Day”.  President Truman declared the holiday shortly after the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The original V-J Day was September 2nd, 1945 (marking the formal end date of WWII), but revised to August 14th to recognize the actual day of Japanese surrender.  V-J Day came shortly after V-E Day (“Victory in Europe” Day), signifying Nazi Germany’s formal surrender to the Allies the previous May.

Victory Day became infinitely more famous when Life Magazine published Albert Eisenstaedt’s photo of an anonymous sailor and nurse celebrating the moment of Japanese surrender in downtown New York City.  Today a massive statue of the “Unconditional Surrender” (more affectionately referred to as the “Kissing Sailor”) can be seen in San Diego’s downtown waterfront, adjacent to the USS Midway aircraft carrier.

Thirty-six countries besides the United States celebrate some form or another of a Victory Day.  Why not our other forty-nine states?  Are we (as in the recent events in Charlottesville) determined to erase the nice/not-so-nice history defining the freedoms Americans enjoy today?  Victory Day recognizes the triumph of good over evil, not the Confederate brand of freedom.  Note a critical detail as well: Japan struck first, in its late-1941 assault on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor.  America was not the aggressor.

Maybe someday I’ll get to Rhode Island so I can a) witness the celebration of Victory Day, and b) thank the residents for keeping a most important moment in U.S. history alive.  In the meantime I’ll count on George Bailey every Christmas to remind me, immortalized in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  George was deaf in one ear so he couldn’t serve in WWII alongside his brother Harry.  Instead he stayed on the home front, running “paper drives… scrap drives… rubber drives.”  And, “… like everybody else on V-E Day, he wept and prayed… on V-J Day, he wept and prayed.”

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Color of Courage

I am a civilian living in a “military town”, considering the number of Army and Air Force bases in and around Colorado Springs.  The contemporary Air Force Academy campus (USAFA) to the west is the dead giveaway, but the Army’s Fort Carson to the south is larger in terms of acreage and personnel.  Fort Carson is also the largest employer of any kind in this part of the state.  Then there’s Peterson Air Force Base to the east (co-located with our municipal airport), Schriever Air Force Base to the slightly-further east, and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station hiding in the foothills to the west (which may or may not have missiles pointed towards North Korea).

All this presence-of-the-defense in Colorado Springs prompts the question whenever I purchase: “military or civilian?”.  You get a deserved discount if you are the former.  I am the latter so I pay full price.  Safe to say I will also never be awarded the Purple Heart.

This past Monday (August 7th) was “Purple Heart Day” – on the list of U.S. Holidays and Observances – honoring the date the award was created in 1782.  The Purple Heart was not given between 1783 and 1931 – the span of time between the Revolutionary War and World War I – so it has “only” been awarded a total of 86 years since the days of George Washington.  That still amounts to countless acts of valor (over 1.8 million by some estimates).

I have the utmost respect for the men and women in uniform, so I am awed by those who receive the Purple Heart.  “Those” includes my father-in-law, who served and was injured in the Korean War back in the early 1950’s.  “Those” include various notables, including Kurt Vonnegut, Pat Tillman, Rod Serling, and Norman Schwarzkopf.  “Those” include Curry T. Haynes, who died less than a month ago.  Haynes served in the Army in the Vietnam War and received a total of ten Purple Hearts for the injuries he suffered.  That’s more decorations than any other recipient.

Ponder for a moment: Over a million Purple Hearts were awarded during WWI alone.  Another 350,000 were awarded during the Vietnam War.  All in defense of freedom.

Because decorations were not always documented (Purple Hearts were often awarded on the spot; even attached to the hospital beds of recipients), there is no accurate total.  Instead, the Military Order of the Purple Heart commemorated a network of roads, highways, and bridges in the states of Purple Heart recipients.  Whenever you see a sign like the one above, be reminded of the high (and frequent) price paid for your freedom.

Between 1942 and 1997, civilians serving in the armed forces were eligible to receive the Purple Heart.  Nine firefighters in the Honolulu Fire Department were decorated during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  After 1997, Congress passed legislation limiting awards to men and women in uniform.  Civilians now receive the Defense of Freedom Medal for similar sacrifices.

    Sergeant Reckless photo – by Andrew Geer

Animals are also eligible for the Purple Heart.  The most impressive: the decorated war horse Reckless, a thoroughbred mix rescued from the race track and trained by members of the Marine Corps.  Reckless served in the Korean War, frequently carrying supplies and ammunition to the front line.  Remarkably, Reckless memorized her routes so she could deliver unattended.  During one battle, she made 51 trips in a single day between supply depot and front line.  Reckless was wounded twice and thus received two Purple Hearts.  She was promoted to the rank of sergeant shortly after the war ended.  A plaque and photo of Reckless can be seen at the Marine Corp base Camp Pendleton in California.

As I began with, I’m a civilian living in a military town.  I am surrounded by my Colorado peers who serve or have served in the armed forces.  I may not be one of them, but at least I can tip my hat on the streets, especially to those who wear the Purple Heart.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.