November 27, 2015

Sometimes Forgotten, Forever Appreciated

They don’t normally march in parades; they don’t normally have banquets and ceremonies in their honor; and they don’t normally receive much publicity for their service.
      And while much has been made of showing appreciation for the service and sacrifices of the American military servicemen and women—since after the Vietnam War, anyway—little has been done to show appreciation for the Americans who stayed behind during World War II and produced the goods and material the troops needed to function on the front.
      I’m quite pleased to see attention given to the service of military veterans. They’re deserving. The (Champaign-Urbana) News-Gazette published a large list of area events for Veterans Day. Services and parades are also held on the Fourth of July and Memorial Day.
      News-Gazette reporter Paul Wood has been featuring a weekly front-page story of an interview with a military veteran for some time. All this is refreshing to see in a country that is now protected by an all-volunteer military—much different that it was during World War II.
      Back then about 16 million Americans served to preserve our freedom and way of life. Some 405,000 of them died during the war in both combat and noncombat-related deaths. More than 570,000 suffered non-fatal wounds they lived with until the end of their lives or still live with. 
But those men and women were backed by soldiers on the home front—production soldiers, if you will—who worked in the nation’s factories, mills, mines, oil fields, farms and other areas to supply the military with necessary support to carry on the war.
      Jim Kelly, an Urbana Marine veteran who spent 36 days on Iwo Jima during that battle where 6,821 men were killed and nearly 19,000 wounded, often mentions those who supported the war effort at home during those times.
      “When somebody thanks me for my service,” Kelly says, “I say, ‘Yes, but don’t forget the civilians who stayed behind and provided the supplies we needed.’”
      Kelly’s wife, Leila, worked in an airplane factory in Torrance, Calif. And there are hundreds of thousands of others who worked to make the war effort a successful one. My father was drafted in 1944, went to Chicago for his physical, passed it, but was given 30 days to return home and somehow wrap up his business for the duration of the war.
My father with one of his hauling trucks in the 1940s.
      In his late 20s, he and my mother lived on a small farm, raised a few hogs, fed some cattle, milked a couple of cows and raised some chickens and had five trucks hauling farmers’ livestock to the stockyards in Indianapolis, their corn, beans and wheat to the elevator and spread fertilizer on their fields.
      Before the 30 days were up, a local farmer who served on the Selective Service draft board started a petition indicating that my father was needed at home to serve the community. And so he stayed. The men he had driving four of his trucks were young men who hadn’t yet gone to the military or older men who weren’t taken into the service.
      Growing up on the farm later, I sometimes complained about the long days in the field during planting or harvest seasons. My father had no sympathy.
      “Back during the war,” he said, “there were times I didn’t pull my shoes off from Sunday morning until Thursday evening. I’d take a load of stock to Indianapolis four nights and sometimes stop in Brazil on the way back and get a load of coal for somebody, scoop it off and then pick up another load of stock to take back to Indianapolis.”
      He wasn’t the only one working like that. They were scattered all across the United States. Many were injured or killed on the job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 75,000 Americans died or became permanently or totally disabled in industry during the war. Another 378,000 industrial workers were reported to have suffered permanent or partial disabilities doing the work to support the war effort.
      After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, historians report that it took nearly 18 months for the United States to build its military-industrial base to muster the necessary support. And it wasn’t until sometime in 1943 that combat-related deaths exceeded industrial deaths on the home front.
      So factory workers, farmers, miners and others deserve the same words of gratitude and appreciation as those who served directly in the military. The next time you see one of them, you might say a word of thanks for their service. They’re deserving, too.