I have always loved the balmy days of May. Maybe it was because everything was in bloom to prepare nature’s summer wardrobe. Or, was it because it was the time of my first trip home in what had seemed like an eternity?
May 1945 was the gateway to a new and different world. The battle of Berlin was over, Hitler and many of his henchmen committed suicide to avoid capture by the Allies and eventual prosecution for their crimes against humanity. On May 7, Germany surrendered unconditionally to General Eisenhower. On May 8, church bells rang, factory whistles blew and air raid sirens wailed as we celebrated Victory in Europe Day.
Life did not immediately return to pre-war conditions. We were victors in Europe, but we had to become administrators of the peace and a leader in restoring the war torn continent. That would be quite an undertaking. Many of our combat units were packed up and shipped back to the States to prepare for the invasion of Japan. The U.S.S.R. entered the war against Japan and engaged Japanese forces in Manchuria. A fierce battle raged on Okinawa. Even though their overall strength was weakening, the Japanese were fighting to the death the closer we came to their homeland.
Fortunately, our homeland was never attacked and destroyed like Europe. We did have a lot of ships sunk off our coast by the German wolfpacks and some saboteurs were captured trying to carry out their assigned missions. But, May in America was warm and peaceful.
Now as the warm days of May engulf us, they will bring out a group of old veterans who can be found sitting around various businesses in your communities clutching a donation canister and a fist full of poppies. It is an age-old tradition of remembrance and honor. The donations to help veterans and military families are certainly welcomed. But, taking and wearing a poppy to honor and remember those who made the supreme sacrifice is a salute of the highest order.
The glorious month of May concludes with our most sacred national holiday: Memorial Day. Many people think it is the time to rush off to the shore and start their summer holidays. In the spirit of the day, couldn’t they just spend part of their time attending a local Memorial Day program and remembering and honoring the more than 1.2 million Americans who paid the price for their liberty? I will.
Richard A. Pender is the senior vice commander of American Legion Post 459 in North Brunswick. He writes the occasional historical column for Newspaper Media Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.