As the Japanese fleet was headed to Pearl Harbor, Americans were enjoying the sun and sand in Honolulu.
A week ago today, Ken and I went to the WWII Museum with my Dad, our daughter and future son-in-law. My birthday was a few days earlier, and instead of dinner out or gifts I wanted tickets to the museum. Our daughter's fiancee was able to score five free tickets from his boss!
Let me tell you ... every American should spend at least one day at this museum. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, although it was a sobering experience. I really didn't know many details of the war, and the museum did a great job of presenting a ton of information in a way that was easy to understand. The 4D movie produced with Tom Hanks (about 45 minutes) was a must see! I left with a much greater knowledge of what caused the war and how it finally ended. What happened during those six years in between were both awesome and awful.
Our country was pretty much thrown into the war when Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan on December 7, 1941. We quickly sprung into action, as we were fighting Japan and their Emperor to our West while fighting Germany and Hitler to our East. The women stepped in to replace the jobs the men had left behind and production of planes, tanks and ships exploded.
I found it interesting that the Higgins boat was produced in New Orleans, and tested in Lake Pontchartrain. With a big gate that dropped down in the front, these amphibious boats were able to carry a massive amount of men and jeeps/equipment from ship to shore. Over 20,000 boats were produced, and the shipyard went from about 75 employees to over 25,000 within five years. Needless to say, the war made Higgins a very wealthy man. General Dwight D. Eisenhower later said that Higgins "won the war for us".
Eisenhower and his staff made some tough decisions, such as whether or not to move forward on D-day when faced with terrible weather. Ultimately, Eisenhower's staff was divided and the decision fell on Eisenhower himself. After much thought, he decided to move forward and invade the shores of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. Stories of seasick and exhausted men on the Higgins boats faced with the dreaded words, "Drop the gate". Once that gate dropped, they were in waist deep water fighting for their lives ... many didn't survive. That first wave of men were virtually wiped out.
Our country also came up with some brilliant ideas. In order to throw off Hitler, a Hollywood movie crew created and placed fake tanks and military equipment in a different part of France than we actually attacked. Hitler, the coward that he was, ultimately committed suicide on April 30, 1945 when faced with defeat.
On the other side of the world, we were fighting Japan. Our men didn't realize how prepared Japan was, and when they first saw explosions throughout the night in the distance they cheered. They didn't realize that those explosions were our men being blown up. The Japanese soldiers were brutal and were more than willing to die while killing Americans. Ever heard the term kamikaze ... that was the name given to the Japanese pilots that committed suicide by flying their plane into ships. There were about 4000 kamikaze pilots, and about 14% of them hit a ship. Even after the defeat of Germany, Japan wouldn't surrender.
After hearing about D-day, soldiers were relieved to hear that they wouldn't have to invade the shores of Japan. The newly created nuclear bomb took care of that with two bombings of Japan in August, 1945. The picture below is a test of the nuclear explosion in the Marshall Islands.
I could go on and on about what I learned during our "day of war" at the museum, and I wasn't even able to read/watch half of the stories available! There were so many stories ... some told by written posts and others told by veterans through short videos. There were pictures of veterans on a touchscreen, and by touching their face their story began. One elderly black veteran told the story of seeing a wounded sailor lying on top of a gun, needing assistance. When he grabbed the wounded man's shoulder to ask him where he'd been hit ... his entire shoulder and arm came off in his hands. He stuffed his fist into the sailor's wound until a doctor arrived. The old man said, "You don't forget about something like that". No, I'm sure you don't.
The museum also has lots of relics and pictures from the war ... some of them heart warming and some really gruesome. I've continued to think about what I've learned over the past week. War is a terrible thing. I now wonder what my own grandfathers experienced during the war. I wish they were still alive to tell me. My mom's dad was a merchant marine, and I think of the picture of him in uniform with my grandmother ... so handsome. I need to get a copy of that picture. My dad's father (also handsome in uniform below) was a radio bomber and was stationed on the islands of the Pacific. He never spoke of the war to my Dad, but he did tell my grandmother a funny story. He said that the island women were topless and given t-shirts by the American soldiers. The women graciously accepted the shirts, but they felt they needed to make a few changes ... they cut holes in them to let their breasts hang out!
While at the museum, we were able to find a brick with my grandfather's name on it. My dad had purchased the brick when the museum was built, and it also shows my grandfather's date of birth and death. Also while at the museum, my dad pulled out a small blue velvet pouch that contained a cross inside. He said that the cross was carried by his grandfather (the father-in-law of my grandfather below) while fighting in World War II. I never knew of this cross, and I can only imagine the stories it carries. Again, I wish I could ask.
Edward A Daspit, Sr ... radio bomber
As you can probably tell, our visit to the museum moved me and that is why I highly recommend that you visit it if you're around New Orleans, LA. It's a history lesson that we should all experience.
A few days later was Thanksgiving, and I thought again of the veterans that have tried to live a normal life and put the war behind them ... while the rest of the country moved on and forgot. I also thought of the many that gave their lives for our freedom. Could you imagine what our country would be like if Hitler had won the war?! On Thanksgiving I also thought of today's war and the new wave of killed and wounded Americans ... so many.
Lately I often find myself frustrated with my own circumstances ... this year hasn't produced what I was sure it would. But, when I think of the freedom I have and what my ancestors endured for that freedom ... I am truly thankful. On Thanksgiving, I had a great meal of fried turkey and all the fixin's with my husband, our daughter and her fiancee at the local Copeland's restaurant. Good food, wine and great company ... couldn't ask for a better day!
Hasta luego ... until then. Mid-Life Cruising!