It is Veterans' Day 2015. I am thinking about this day in part because last Thursday would have been Mom's 100th Birthday. Mom was born during World War I. Dad was born a few years earlier. Neither of them had any real personal memories of that human tragedy.
World War I ended on November 11, 2018. Many, many people thought that would be the end of horrible wars such as that one. Few anticipated a much worse war would happen in only a few decades.
At the beginning of World War II Mom was a young adult of 23 with two younger brothers, Uncle Clarence and Uncle John. Her wonderful parents – Joseph and Laura (maiden name Lawton) Lowe – were both alive. They had, I think, a good family with children beginning to make contributions to the larger society.
Uncle John was the first to be noticeably affected by the war. For some reason he literally cracked up in the Army. I don't know why. Our family did not discuss that much. I can say that our government did take good care of Uncle John. One thing I remember about Uncle John was his heavy smoking – four packs a day I understand. I also remember his affection for carrier pigeons. That was a big hobby of his. When I knew him growing up, he was a postal carrier for the U.S. Post Office. He did die of a heart attack at age 65. I think that the smoking contributed greatly to that. I wonder what his life would have been like if there had not been a World War II.
Uncle Clarence was also affected greatly by the war. He was a member of the infantry who was wounded twice badly during fighting in Europe. When he got home, people said to him “Guess you will be getting married and settling down now.” His reply was sad. He said “No. I want a quiet life.” Today people say that such things are the result of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don't know if that is what happened to Uncle Clarence, although it seems quite likely. I can say this wonderful man was, in many ways, like a second father to me. Among other things he did in the 1950s was to build the Lowe family's first high fidelity music system. He also built a telescope to look at the heavens. Oh – he dropped out of high school in the 1930s. Times were very different back then.
Mom came through the war in good shape. She even married Dad during the war. These two people had a great marriage. They were loving, caring, bright and, in important ways, curious and open minded. I remember doing things with them as a boy like decorating our home for Christmas. I really loved the electric trains we had. So did Dad. Watching Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” on TV became a tradition. Mom and Dad even took to me to Broadway to see things like Julie Andrews in “My Fair Lady.” Then there were the many trips to Canada to visit Dad's cousins.
Mom's parents came through the war in good shape. I remember playing in the wonderful home my grandfather (who was a bricklayer by profession) built with some friends of his. I could not have wanted better grandparents. My grandfather passed away in the early 1950s from natural causes. My grandmother made it into the early 1960s.
At the beginning of the war, my father's parents were still alive, as were his two brothers Uncle Don and Uncle Dick.
My father's father – Charles – was the first to die. He died in 1942, apparently of natural causes. He had been born in 1869 and was 72. My father was the first of his children, born in 1913. I grew up in the same home Dad did. It was also a nice place to be. That grandfather had graduated from Rutgers in 1890. Dad's side of the family was, shall we say, well educated for the time. My father was Rutgers class of 1935.
The next death was much more tragic. In 1944 my Grandmother Agnes was listening to the radio upstairs when a story came on about how the war could be over soon. Mom and Dad were downstairs. My Grandmother Agnes ran for the stairs and downstairs to tell Mom and Dad the news. She tripped on the stairs. She was badly injured. She did die from her injuries, just not immediately. She was only 64. I wonder what it would have been like to grow up for at least a bit with a Canadian grandmother. Dad's love of Canada has been passed on to me.
The war in Europe was winding down with an Allied victory in 1945. Our side won in May. Unfortunately for my family, Uncle Dick was killed in the closing days of the war. Dad's first reaction was “Thank God Mom went first. This would have killed her.” Dad missed Uncle Dick until he died in 1974. Uncle Dick was viewed as the smartest of the three brothers. Dad and Uncle Don were exceptionally intelligent themselves. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to grow up with a brilliant mathematician uncle.
Uncle Don became an officer in the Navy. I gather he served in the Pacific. I don't remember him talking much about his military service. Perhaps my cousins Barbara, Don and Cindy could say more. They were fortunate enough to live with Uncle Don and Aunt Kay through their years of growing up in New Jersey. My strongest memories were of a wonderful couple who gave me – and the rest of the world – fine cousins.
My father's war experiences were, shall we say, unusual. This story begins with my father getting hit by a streetcar when he was in junior high back in the 1920s. His lower left leg bones were shattered. Doctors managed to save his leg by cleaning out the bone fragments and replacing them with a hunk of platinum. That leg bothered Dad for the rest of his life, some days more than others.
Because of that injury, when Dad went to Rutgers, he majored in economics and, upon graduating, became a fine accountant. He was a good, bright man who kept up on the developments in his field including such things as the then new cost accounting. By the time the United States was attacked, Dad had become a mature, but still young man. During the war he worked in the accounting office of a local war contractor. In good part because of his abilities and character the war contractor made Dad the manager of said office. That injured leg might have had something to do with it as well.
When Dad received his first draft notice, he, of course, reported. The doctors examined his leg and declared him 4F – not able to serve because of his injury. No one was surprised at that. What got to be surprising was the fact that Dad starting getting draft notices every few months. The doctors started saying things like “What? You again?” before once again proclaiming him 4F.
In a way it was I who finally figured out what had gone on.
I was drafted into the Army in 1967 within a few months of graduating from Rutgers with a degree in physics. I was already working as a physicist at IBM. Everyone was surprised at my being drafted. While, like all young men, I was subject to the draft, I – and most others – thought that because of my critical skills (physicists were in very short supply) I would be given a critical skills exemption. I was the only young man drafted out of the IBM laboratory where I worked.
How did this happen?
I grew up in the same home that Dad did. I was subject to the same draft board that Dad was.
In 1969 the draft resistance forces opposed to the war in Vietnam managed to force Selective Service to report who sat on many draft boards because Selective Service had improperly assigned people to various draft boards. Dad recognized the name of one man on my draft board. He had been one of the people my father managed during World War II. I now think this man – sometimes I think this criminal – was responsible for me being drafted in 1967.
Oh – did they get a normal 21 year old college graduate? Hardly. They got a very, very bright physicist with an extremely democratic personality. My story A Few Basic Training Stories will, hopefully, help people understand that part of me better.
We Americans – and others living in free, democratic countries – should show our thanks to those fine men and women who have served in our militaries to protect us from the likes of Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and their supporters. I also think all of us should work on better ways of leading humanity to better futures than those monsters did. Better to have the Hitlers and Stalins doing something that would not hurt the human race the way that they did than making truly horrible wars on all of us
Enough for now. I actually want to post this on Veterans' Day in 2015. Of course I will have more to say on this important topic.