It was a television pawnshop story that caught my eye, bringing back a ton of memories. A man came in and spread out a World War II bomber jacket on the counter. On one side was a damaged but readable insignia. On the other side were sewn a large number of what looked to be bombs.
The gentleman that brought it in was, I thought, the owner. But it turned out that he was the son of the aviator who had worn that jacket in combat. It took me a moment to realize that the man who’d worn that jacket had to be about my age, and was probably now deceased. His son also had a ledger written by his father telling about each mission he and his comrades had taken. I felt a strong familiar pang tugging at my heart. Tears began to swell in my eyes.
Those who lived through that terrible war remember people, places and events as if they had happened only yesterday. That jacket brought back memories, both painful and beautiful. Those men and women who served back then were so very young. Some fighter pilots and bomber crews were still in, or just out, of their teens. Thousands of others jumped from landing boats or planes into unfamiliar places in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters, knowing they might not live another day.
Whenever I see a WWII uniform, I fondly remember one Sunday in March 1945 when my husband came home on leave to see our son, Donald Jr., for the first time. In a rare coincidence, two of his brothers were also on leave. It wasn’t planned, but we sat together during that service waiting for the minister to bring Don Sr. and me up to the front of the altar to baptize our first-born son.
The church was packed without an empty pew in the place, not even in the balcony section. The pastor asked that the other three Hill boys come forward to join Don and me. There those boys stood, Army Air Corp’s Capt. Clayton Hill, a chemist, 1st Lieutenant Robert Hill, a fighter pilot, and 2nd Lieutenant Donald Hill Sr., a bombardier, together with their young teenager brother, Eugene. There were also many Navy and Army personnel in the congregation.
Back then we prayed for guidance, hope, and deliverance from the terrible battle of war. As the pastor talked about what it would be like when the boys all came home, there wasn’t a dry eye in the church. I turned to see my mother-in-law crying, my father-in-law with a proud grin on his face. But I remember most of all, looking back at how handsome and regal those three officers looked in their “pink and green” Army Air Corps uniforms.
A few years later after the Army Air Corp was separated into the new Air Force and when we then had three boys, a war buddy of my husband came knocking on our door in Roslyn, Pa. There stood this handsome man in a “blue” uniform. It took me a minute to realize that he wasn’t a bus driver, not when I saw his insignia. He was an Air Force officer dressed in what I learned was their new uniform
Phooey on blue I remember thinking, when those pink and greens were such handsome uniforms. I know it’s silly, but you remember ‘little” things like the color of a uniform. Uniforms, over the years give credence to just who, what and where a service person performed their duties. We old folks notice this all the time; hence my love for those ”pink and green” uniforms worn during WWII.
Wouldn’t you know that my oldest son, Don Jr., the tiny baby we’d baptized that beautiful Sunday in 1945, would enlist in the Air Force in the 1960s? I remember how glad I was that he’d studied German in high school. Somehow, the military realized this ability and instead of being sent to Vietnam, the Air Force sent Don Jr. to Germany.
He was on his first leave home when I picked him up at the Fresno airport one warm, summer day. Here was my little boy, now grown up. He’d grown a mustache, which was a surprise, and was dressed in one of those “blue” uniforms. Of course, I had to change my mind about that “blue” uniform. He looked very, very handsome. But I had to laugh at that mustache.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.