Memorial Day – what I remember

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Sally Pullman served as an Army nurse in World War II in the Pacific theater.

It is a special time, this day when we remember. The sun shines, the flags fly. Parades march down every town’s main street. Veterans march, as do school bands, youth groups, business organizations, scouts, 4-H and any others who wish to honor those who served their country. Walkers swing along to the music; roadside observers mark time to the beat.

For me, memories go back a long way. When I was a young child in Bristol, my dad took the family to the parade downtown each Memorial Day. The doughboys, veterans of World War I back from France just a few years, marched proudly down Main Street. My friend Sybil’s dad was never at the parade, however; he couldn’t stand any noise or anything else that made him remember. (It was “shellshock,” we were told; today it is called post-traumatic stress disorder.)

At the very end of this parade, a large car with its top folded back drove slowly. In the back seat sat three white-haired gentlemen. My dad told me these men were veterans of the Civil War. Their ages would have been what mine is now.

On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. World War II had begun. Our lives would never be the same. One by one, my friends and neighbors left to serve, as did my brother, who flew Liberators on Atlantic submarine patrol out of Cornwall, England. I was sent to the southwest Pacific area as an army nurse. We all gladly did our part.

My parents, as thousands of others at home, raised victory gardens, canned fruits and vegetables and lived with rationed gasoline and food stamps. Everyone prayed for the safe return of their loved ones from wherever they were in the worldwide conflagration.

Some of my cadre of friends did not return. Ben, the boy next door, was lost flying “the Hump” out of the Himalayas. Howie’s destroyer hit a mine in the Atlantic and sank. Hender and Jeremy died in Okinawa. Dan, first severely injured in Leyte, was sent to Okinawa where he was injured again. He was never the same. Ernie sustained life-changing injuries in the European theater.

How well I remember May 31, 1945. The war was still raging in the Pacific, but farther to the north than previously. A friend took me to the Veterans’ Cemetery in Dulag, just south of my hospital in the Philippine Islands. Our flag was flying at half-mast over the entrance to acres of rows of white markers. The area was surrounded by a white picket fence.  Each wooden marker wore one-half of the soldier’s dog tags, identifying his last resting place. It was so peaceful. 

Pullman is now 101, and living in Philadephia.

Behind this quiet area were the trunks of shattered trees, leafless palms and pools of water filling old shell holes — a grim reminder of the cost of retaking the first of the Philippines. This is where General Douglas MacArthur first landed stating, “I have returned!” All too soon came Korea, that miserable frozen peninsula, and MacArthur’s firing by President Truman. How far a hero can fall!

Vietnam followed. Our country was in chaos for so long. Over there, our men fought and died; at home, turmoil reigned. Men went to Canada to resist the draft. There were protest marches. There was the slaughter of resisters at Kent State College. Still, our men are called to duty.

Four of my nephews went to Vietnam; two came home injured. Three of my neighbors here in Granby were called. Don came home, but Johnny and Tommy did not — such fine young men. Their names are on the black granite memorial in Washington, D.C. where I stood in silence to honor them. How long it took for that memorial to be created!

My granddaughter is married to a marine who was deployed to Djibouli at the Horn of Africa to protect our supplies on their way to Iraq. Wars continue to rage on the other side of the world.

These are my personal memories of this special day when we honor and remember all those who have served our country, whether in uniform or in a civilian capacity. So many have given so much to keep our troops supplied and the home front functioning.

When the parade music stops, the marchers gather in the quiet place where our friends, neighbors and loved ones rest. The speeches end. Taps sound — the slow, clear poignant notes reverberate over our quiet valley. Memories flood. Another Memorial Day is over. We do remember.

Many thanks to Sally Pullman-Mooar for sharing her mother’s photos.