Wednesday, November 11

Veterans History Project

Two Rosie the Riveters Reminisce

World War II Vets and Survivors

Veteran's History Project Luncheon - November 7, 2009 - Sedona, Arizona

"I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a method of settling international disputes." -General Douglas MacArthur

Many years ago, I sang in a rock and roll band. It was a "top 40" band formed by my husband who played bass and me. We travelled throughout the country and because of our strange schedule - sleeping during the day and working at night - we became used to isolation and loneliness. I should say that I became used to this twilight existence. As great as the band members were, I was the only woman and didn't quite fit in to the rock and roll lifestyle.

We had a six-week gig in Colorado Springs one fall. It was one of my better road memories because the club owner furnished fairly decent rooms and the city itself is spectacular. The club was closed on Sunday and everyone, except me, decided to go to Denver for some reason - another band was playing/partying... the drummer needed new sticks... someone needed something that we couldn't get in Colorado Springs... I was sick... don't really remember. Anyway, I stayed behind.

I went for a walk that morning and ran into the motel owner's daughter, Leslie. She gave me a ride into town and we had breakfast and shopped a little. I was grateful for her friendliness and we made plans to do more shopping in the future. As I was opening my motel room door, I noticed a man on an earth mover right behind the motel. He was scooping up debris next to a ditch and piling it up by the roadway. I went around the back and watched him work for a while. He was older, bundled up sporting a hat with ear flaps. Quite a sight, really. A chunky bit of determined man mastering a mechanized beast. I finished my cigarette and was just about to go back to my room, when he wheeled around and drove the beast to the vacant lot next to the motel.

He got down from the vehicle and stumbled a little. I noticed he was holding onto to the handrail as he walked toward me.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"Yeah, just got a little cold out there. How's the room?" he said.

I guessed that he must be the motel owner and said nice things about the room and his daughter.

"Leslie's not my daughter, though," he said. "She's my sister's girl. Nora and I took over this place after I got back from the war and Leslie's helped out ever since she could walk."

He was closer now, and sat down on the bench to rest. I guessed that he must have been wounded in the war.

"Which war were you in," I asked.

"World War II. I was one of the first soldiers to Dachau. That's where I really got to know how to use an earth mover, only it wasn't earth we were moving. What a gawd awful place and the stink, the stink of that place. I saw things there that still give me nightmares. Sorry. I just can't talk about it, not ever. Well I gotta go." He got up, looking down, not meeting my eyes and walked to the front of the motel and into the office.

I felt chilled and sad for him. I had become used to isolation and lonliness, but not because something inside me was damaged or frozen. This man was a walking wound - trying to isolate his heart from his memories. Later I talked to his sister, Nora, and she was surprised that Billy even talked to me, especially about his war experiences.

"Billy has never spoken one word about what happened to him over there," she said. "He used to be so much fun before the war, but it hurt him, it really, really hurt him. He's just getting by these days. At least that's what I thought, but maybe he's getting over it, finally. That'd be nice."

The movies, documentaries, television stories of the war show the one-dimensional view of the concentration camps and battlegrounds. These grainy, black and white images give me nightmares. I know that Billy and those like him who survived a world unhinged by savagery and insanity live the nightmare. They still live the nightmare. As General MacArthur stated above, creating these nightmares in response to territorial or political threats is useless.

There must be an alternative, a less disastrous way, to protect and preserve our countries and ourselves. Economic prosperity, productivity, and love of life makes it easier to mitigate the pervading cancers of dominance and intolerance. But, when times are tough and I stand next to a person who thinks, acts and believes differently than I believe, I lose perspective. I focus on the external and I become afraid. Every individual contributes to the love of life or destruction of it. I fear the destruction caused by an ignorant or misguided person and group. The fear is what works against my own best interests.

When the world makes no sense, it is time to focus on simple truths. The most powerful four words in the world are: "live and let live." This sentence expresses the simplicity of survival and urges us to focus on life. Actions follow thought, and if the focus is living, I begin to realize that one cannot live alone, rather we all need each other to survive. To thrive in this world, I think that we must love each other and by seeing our own spirit and human potential in every person, the outer shell of identity and distance will not dominate our perceptions and cause conflict. The inner life of each person is where the action, the living, the thriving begins and that is where my connection is most profound. Realizing that all people are connected makes me want to keep up my end of the connection and keep up the positive flow of life force. Keeping positive may be all we can do today, and it takes work. This is good work and the little ripples of happy laughter, quiet togetherness, listening, speaking, caring travel the life force network and make it strong.

May all beings know love and peace.