Memories are created, molded and made in different ways. Some are good, some are very bad, but they become a part of you. They are not meant to be forgotten, but only to be stored in the memory bank of your mind. When this new year of 2009 came into being a few weeks ago, memories of past years emerged.
I remember many yesterdays ago when the worst thing you could do at school was smoke in the bathrooms, flunk a test or chew gum. All the banquets and dances were held in the school’s cafeteria and the girls wore fluffy pastel gowns while we boys wore suits for the first time and we danced to a jukebox.
I remember other yesterdays when we boys would lie on our backs on the grass with our friends just looking at the clouds after playing baseball without any adults around to cheer, boo and argue. In our days, baseball was not a group learning experience, it was a game we played for fun.
I can remember those yesterdays when items came from our stores without safety caps and hermetic seals because no one had yet tried to poison a perfect stranger. I also remember when we were entertained by listening to radio shows of The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, Roy and Dale, and playing Cowboys and Indians with our toy guns, and when being sent to the principal’s office was nothing compared to the fate that would then await you at home.
As 2008’s December faded away, I remembered a certain cold December night 64 years earlier when a voice in that cold, cold, cold night shattered the awful stillness of loneliness with three words, “We’re moving out.” That was all.
There were no bands, flags or pretty girls waving goodbye, we were just tired young men who were part of an awesome war machine called the U.S. Third Army and who had come to Luxembourg to cover a relatively quiet battlefront after previous months of fighting.
Memories once released are impossible to retain in storage. They brought back the dark cold non-stop 36 hour ride we took from somewhere to nowhere because at a new somewhere named Bastogne, almost 50 miles behind our Belgium lines, some of our paratroopers were holding up the entire German Army from recapturing Antwerp and from turning the tide of the war.
“Be careful, be careful” — I still remember those often repeated words of that fateful battle. The elite of Hitler’s troops were out there, somewhere in the fields of snow being led by English speaking SS Commanders dressed in American uniforms.
I remember that we were told not to rely on our passwords because the enemy soon knew them, and answered to them. We were told to ask the hard questions, such as who was playing in the up-coming Rose Bowl. Trouble was, we authentic GIs at Christmas time in 1944 had no idea or even cared who was playing in any of the Bowl games.
Oh sure, history books record how we in the Third Army struck hard against the southern flank and joined up with the heroes at Bastogne. History also records that the Germans lost more than 600 tanks and suffered 90,000 casualties, while our casualties numbered over 77,000.
However, my memories recall that an unknown and now forgotten hero in history kept us going in those dark days. He was an ex-German language professor from Yale who passed down the information that the Germans pronounced the letter W like a V. Our lines were made more secure, and our moral was lifted because the passwords became “Which-Way” and What-Weather.”
I remember when a German dressed as an American soldier responded to our “Which” with “Vay,” no further questions were asked. We won!
Today’s memories also remind us that we seniors are constantly being criticized for every conceivable deficiency of the modern world, real or imaginary.
But, upon reflection, I remember that it was not we seniors who took the melody out of the music — the commitment out of marriage — the responsibility out of parenthood — the togetherness out of the family — the learning out of education — religion out of schools — civility out of behavior — refinement out of language — and prudence out of spending.
I recognize that the past is past, but I wonder whether we could return our country to the good values that I remember then existed.
Will our children and grandchildren be able to look back with good memories of this era? The answer is a resounding “maybe” — but it will only happen if the political leaders of our country lead in defending the traditional values and principles shared by the majority of this nation’s citizens.
They must oppose those who insist on downplaying the terrorist threat and the moral distinction between the forces of good and evil in our world. They must also return our nation to a free-market place that rewards individual achievement and not an individual’s greed.
Finally, they must protect us from our country’s Stalinists who challenge the fundamental assumptions in our Constitution and wish to replace them with law making activist judges who rewrite our laws.
James Barrie wrote, “God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.” Let us hope that today’s leaders will make that statement come true for our children.
Mort Marks is a WWII veteran. He resides in Arapahoe County and is an active Republican.