Recently a friend asked why I sign off on my blog postings with the word Peace. That question prompted me to think of my history with both the word and its meaning. Today I’ll begin to share with you my initial memories. I suspect I’ll be writing more than one posting about my relationship to peace, but here’s where it all began.
I was five years old and in kindergarten when the United States entered World War II. My parents had told me before then that England was fighting the Blitz and that RAF pilots were defending the island nation. Dad used a large world map to show me Great Britain.
“The British airmen are defending England now, Dodo,” he said. “We’ll probably end up entering this war. Like we did the last. This time we’ll fight for real peace.” I know I didn’t understand the words war and peace then.
However, in 1942, the song we heard repeatedly on our radio was “The White Cliffs of Dover,” sung by the English songstress and actress Vera Lynn. The lyrics spoke of the RAF pilots—called the bluebirds because of their blue uniforms. Lynn sang of their valiant efforts to defend their England and bring peace. That song is perhaps when I first understood the emotions that peace implied.
Between December 1941 and August 1945, I was like most children in the United States: we saved money for war bonds; collected scrap metal for the war drive; and listened as our parents talked at the supper table about the bold newspaper headlines on the battles, which were being fought on multiple fronts.
Several times each year, we gathered around the radio in the front room to listen to President Roosevelt’s fireside chats. By our beds each night we knelt to pray for our fighting men. We laboriously printed short letters to soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. We were all in the fight together; all of us—those fighting; those on the home front—were pursuing peace, which my mother told me was “elusive.”
Kitty-cornered from Saint Mary’s Grade School was a small grocery store. It was there I went after school one day a week to buy a few necessities and to present Mom’s ration books and the cash she’d given me that morning. The store’s owner had thumbtacked two maps on his wall: one of Europe, northern Africa, and Asia and one of the Pacific islands.
Each time I came into his store, the owner, whose name I’m sorry to have forgotten because he touched my life with goodness, gave me a history lesson. After I’d made my purchases and while I waited for the town bus, he’d summarize the war effort. Using thumbtacks, he’d show me where our soldiers were advancing or retreating. He’d point to islands in the Pacific and make educated guesses about where the marines would land next. He’d read to me from the letters his son sent.
Early on that son trained at Fort Leonard Wood, which had been built in the Missouri Ozarks in early 1941. He shipped out to the Pacific where he learned jungle warfare and finally fought in the Battle of Luzon. His letters, like all the military sent, had blackened letters. “Can’t let no spies find out what’s happening,” the grocer would say to me.
Frequently, he spoke of what he’d do when his son came home. Of how they’d run the store together. Maybe enlarge it. Of how they’d agree to disagree without fighting. Of the peace they’d share. Slowly I fashioned a picture of a world not torn by war but woven together by that peace.
Until we meet again, may you know peace.