I’m thinking about the men in my family who served our nation on this Memorial Day.
Two of my ancestors fought for the Union during the Civil War: one from Pennsylvania (my dad’s side of the family) and the other for West Virginia (my mom’s side of the family.) Both were wounded, one at Gettysburg, the other at the Battle of the Wilderness.
Memorial Day dates back to 1865, shortly after the end of the Civil War, when people in both North and South put decorations on the graves of those who fell in what is still the bloodiest war in American history. The holiday was called Decoration Day before the name was changed to Memorial Day.
My dad volunteered for service in World War II in August of 1942. He first tried to join the Navy as a Seabee, but was turned down for being underweight. He never was a large man, maybe 5’7″ tall. So he went across the hall to the Army Air Corps and enlisted. (He always said that in those days, the Army would take you if you could see light and hear thunder. He was quite the joker.) He worked on the ground crew of the bombers keeping the sights adjusted so the bombs would hit their target. He served first in North Africa and then in Italy.
My brother joined the Air Force right out of high school and served in the Pacific area as the Korean War was ending. I still have the doll he sent me from the Philippines.
In 2015 and again in 2016, I visited the Normandy landing beaches and the American cemetery in Colville. Learning about the D-Day landings and then seeing the rows of crosses really hits home the tremendous sacrifices made by our Allied soldiers that day. The experience is moving and humbling.
Grave markers at American cemetery, Colville, France
Wishing you all a joyful and meaningful Memorial Day.
Part of our trip to Prague was for historical research, so one morning we took the World War II in Prague Tour. First a quick bit of historical background.
The nation of Czechoslovakia was created at the end of World War II when the Austro-Hungarian empire was dissolved and formed into several different nations. Czechoslovakia was a democracy from October 1918 until the Germans marched in on March 15, 1939. His original justification was to re-patriate German speaking Czechoslovakians living in the area known as the Sudentenland, but of course, that area wasn’t enough for his need to create the German empire called the Third Reich. Because the Allies were still trying to avoid war with Germany, there was no military resistance.
Our tour started at the Powder Tower, one of the original thirteen city gates. Located in Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky), the gate separates Old Town from New Town. Our guide met us here and gave a lot of information, but the square is noisy and I missed some of it.
Next he led us back to Old Town Square and the Old Town Hall where the Resistance hid in the underground chambers and used the tunnels under the city to move around without notice. How cool is that?
The “city under the city” served as headquarters for the Prague resistance. They even had a provisional hospital set up down there. The underground is actually the Romanesque and Gothic section of the Old Town Hall. Like a lot of old European cities, Prague kept building upward, so you have to go down to locate the older rooms. I believe the more rounded arches represent Romanesque style, whereas the Gothic arches are more pointed. I could see knights sitting around these rooms, quaffing ale or mead.
The biggest success of the resistance was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich of the SS who had been named “Protector” of Bohemia and Moravia by exiled Czech soldiers smuggled back into Prague. The story of the assassination was the basis for the recent film Anthropoid which I have not yet seen. The assassins were hunted down in a church, and Hitler got his revenge by destroying two villages and murdering all males over the age of sixteen. The rest of the villagers were sent to to concentration camps. Was it worth assassinating Heydrich? I guess it depends on your point of view.
One of the reasons the older sections of Prague aren’t modern is that the city largely escaped the bombing campaigns that destroyed so many other cities. There was one bombing raid on the city in Feb. 1945 by the Americans, who claimed that it was an accident. Supposedly the target was Dresden but faulty radar took them off course and they bombed the wrong city. 701 people were killed and the pilots expressed regrets afterward.
On May 3, 1945, when it became clear Germany was losing the war, the people of Prague rose up and fought the Nazis for three days, with resulting damage to the city including the famous Astronomical Clock. (Luckily it has been restored to original condition.) On May 9, Soviet forces entered the city on March 9, and the grim Iron Curtain descended on the former democracy.
In college, I had a professor who came from Prague. She managed to escape after seeing her husband shot by the Soviets. She always told us how lucky we were to live in the US where citizens were free to criticize the president without being picked up by the secret police! I never forgot that.
The rest of the tour took us through the former Jewish section of the city, which I discussed back in April.
The tour was very interesting and now I really want to see that movie!