Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering Historic Days

Thomas McEntee suggested in his Geneabloggers e-mail today that we blog about how we remember 9/11. I'm going to go a little farther afield and talk about significant historical days in three generations.

For my parents, the watershed day was 7 December 1941. My father, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (1934), had been medically retired about 1939 due to a service-connected disability. He was a naval aviator with the rank of Lieutenant when he was retired. He was called back to active duty in October of 1941. There had to have been knowledge that something was afoot, if the Navy was calling the medically retired back to active duty. My father was ordered to report to Naval Air Station Miami, Florida. He took up his duties as a Naval aviator once again, and that was his status when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place.

Not long after that, something like two months, he was found, because of the disability for which he had been retired, to be not fit to fly, and was grounded. That has to have broken his heart, for my mother said that he loved flying, and in fact, he had been a member of his school's Aero Club in high school, in Pasadena, California. But he also loved the Navy, and would do his duty, wherever the Navy sent him. He was made a flight instructor. He became the lead flight instructor at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. Still, even as a grounded pilot, he was ranked by his commanding officers within the top 5% of Naval aviators on his fitness reports.

One of his Naval Academy classmates, a man for whom my brother had been given his nickname of Ned, died at Pearl Harbor. My father eventually was sent to the Empire Flying School in England, outside of London in a district called Hullavington, to learn the tactics the British had developed in fighting the Germans in the air, and to bring those lessons back to his students at NAS Jacksonville. That was in 1944. After the war was over, my father retired, this time at the rank of Commander.

For my generation, the watershed day was 22 November 1963. I was in the tenth grade at duPont High School in Jacksonville, FL. Enrolled in the college-prep track, I had elected to take shorthand because I thought it would help me in note-taking in college classes. I was in shorthand class that day, when the news came. We had a substitute teacher that day, as our regular teacher, a delightful woman named Mrs. Love, was ill. One of the girls had gone to the office on an errand, and came back, ashen-faced and subdued. Then the loud-speaker system was turned on school-wide, and we heard the news that the president had been shot. At that point, the substitute teacher showed me that she was -- to put a nice face on it -- shallow and self-absorbed. She didn't worry about the president or about the country, but about her stock portfolio. I was negatively impressed.

School was let out, and I drove home (having just got my license the previous spring). Later on, I got in the car, which I had parked in front of the fourplex apartment building where my mother and I lived, getting ready to drive to the hospital where my mother worked, to pick her up. At that point, an elderly woman came walking quickly down the driveway between buildings, hailing me. She asked for a ride, with a thick foreign accent, which I judged to be Eastern European. "Where you go?" she asked. I said I was going to pick my mom up from work. She said she needed to go to a place near the hospital, and I gave her a ride. I turned on the radio to hear further developments, and we shared our shock and grief at what had happened. We were both worried and frightened. I think on that day, we all wanted to reach out to others.

I spent the weekend watching the developments on TV, and there, at the age of 16, I witnessed a murder as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. It was a dark and frightening weekend.

For my daughters, the watershed day was 11 September 2001. My younger daughter worked for a large national bank, in the adjustments department. I was at home, doing some daily chores, and had the television off, because I have a very low opinion of daytime television. My daughter called me and told me to turn on the TV. I turned it on and saw one of the Twin Towers burning, and not long after that, the other airplane came and plowed into the other tower. I was horrified. It was without doubt the worst thing I had seen on television since that awful weekend in November of 1963.

Here again was a day in which we all wanted to reach out to each other, to cut across the artificial divisions which have become too important to too many people, and which really do not matter at all. It is a divided world in many ways, these days, over things which, in the great cosmic scheme of things, aren't that important. And we have allowed these superficial divisions to take on labels which are used to frighten, control, and divide us further, when we should be concentrating on the things which unite us, and the things which are important for today and the future.


Thomas MacEntee said...

Wonderful post Karen - and a brilliant way to work in the other important events in your family's history.

Sue D said...

Great post Karen. I was only 5 when President Kennedy was shot and growing up in England, so I only have vague memories of that time. My watershed was Aug. 1990, Desert Storm. My oldest was barely 1 yr old and I remember watching the news and holding him tight fearing for the world he was going to grow up in. I still do. I still cry when I think of all the people affected by 9/11 also. How sad that we have let our differences divide us so much.