Adversity builds character, strong families
April 14, 2006
by James Nelson
Through the years I have often watched as humans rally around each other in times of adversity. This support has not only extended to individuals in different needy circumstances, but to the populace as a whole in events like natural catastrophes. A feeling of camaraderie and actual giving in all forms is extended by one and all.
While these past events have been emotionally satisfying, none can compare to the unity of the populace here and worldwide during the World War II years. Everyone became involved. It’s not surprising that crime rates were low and divorce was almost non-existent. Hardly a family was untouched when it came to having a loved one put in harm’s way during this period. Those still at home were actively engaged in projects to further victory for us and our allies ” from women working in defense plants (Rosie the Riveter) to the female oilers in the bustling freight yards. Let’s not forget the mothers at home who saved cooking grease that could be reused in the manufacturing of munitions. They also made due with ration coupons for sugar, butter and other staples.
Children, such as myself, were often members of victory-oriented organizations. These organizations consisted of young people who collected scrap metal, used rubber tires, tin foil and whatever else that could be used in the war effort. Families were still functioning as well-knit units. Marriages lasted because the men who had been tempered on the battlefield learned how to accept responsibility in all matters. The women at home, who faced years of lonely separation from husbands and lovers, felt that their families and planned futures were worth every sacrifice they had to endure.
Evenings were taken up with family dinners ” you know, the kind where everyone sits down together, eats and has an actual fruitful conversation. An exodus to the living room would follow to listen to the radio. There were radio news commentators such as Gabriel Heaton, Edward R. Morrow’s “This is London” and Walter Winchell’s “Good Evening Mr. And Mrs. America and All The Ships At Sea” while Morse code dit-dotted in the background. They were our eyes and ears of the war.
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Our doors were never locked and policemen still walked neighborhood beats, twirling their nightsticks by those leather thongs. I never did understand how they mastered this maneuver. I still don’t.
I remember walking into the kitchen one Saturday morning and my Mother was crying. “What’s wrong, Mom?” I asked. Choking back tears she said, “Mrs. Donahue put up two gold stars today, Jimmy.”
“What are gold stars, Mom?” I asked. She then explained to me that families who had someone in the service displayed a red pennant with blue stars on a white field for each member in the service. So I asked, “What about the gold stars?”
She started crying once more when she said, “The gold stars represent a member of the family who was killed in action.”
“You don’t mean, Mom …”
She didn’t let me finish. “She lost two sons last week and that leaves only one.”
I started to cry also. The news brought tears to this neighborhood for blocks around. Yes, adversity does make for stronger families.
Prayer in school was as common as the flag salute. They were seldom missed at home either. After all my two uncles, in far away places, needed all the prayers they could get. Thoughts like “what can I do to help” were utmost in people’s minds. It was easy to recruit air raid wardens, coast watchers, and volunteers to wrap bandages or to serve coffee and doughnuts at the U.S.O. After all, we were all in this together.
My Father, an air raid block warden, was too old to be drafted. He and thousands like him took their positions quite seriously. He often went out at night to participate in air raid drills. His white helmet and white armband were like friendly beacons in the darkness to the neighbors gathered behind curtained windows. All light had to be shielded from the outside. The air raid siren’s mournful wailing could be heard all over town ” especially Wednesday at noon, as they all blew in unison so civil defense personnel could be sure they were operational.
The feeling of unity everyone had during the war only comes spasmodically in this day and age, only when disasters strike, but I know this is human nature. We shouldn’t have to have earth-shattering events to bring about the benevolent behavior brought about by trying times.
The rebirth of the American family is attainable. As much as politicians would like to make you believe, they are not the source one should look to for the return of family values. It will only happen if parents, single parents and extended families, being good role models themselves, work with their children towards these ideals, in the confines of a stable home.