Remember Hiroshima

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Hiroshima Survivors
Hiroshima Survivors

“They surrendered, the Japs surrendered,” Dad yelled.

“The war is over,” he added as he came bursting through the dining room door.

It was early August and I was lying on the couch, covered with a blanket and recovering from one of my bouts with tonsillitis.

I wouldn’t start first grade until after Labor Day. None of this starting school in sweltering August business as we have in recent years. In any case, preparing for that next phase of my young life was yet another cause to lift my spirits. Nevertheless, how my throat still hurt!

This 70-year-ago scene came back as if it were yesterday’s news. It was Thursday’s Peace and Justice Commission’s Hiroshima memorial at the Lakeside Park Pavilion last evening.

Our commission is a small group of peacenik folk. Mostly we met once month to talk and, after a local homicide, we conduct a healing of the land service at the crime scene.

But this event drew people from Sophia’s Portico, several peace churches, Catholics, Protestants and me, this lone Unitarian.

It was a perfect setting at this park on the near north side of Fort Wayne. After we all munched on snacks and gulped down lemonade, Teresa issued the call to worship.

She led us in a responsive reading. To the strumming of the guitar of our guest folk singer, our 40 or so crowd sang together the Prayer of Peace.

The first reader reminded us that on August 6 it was the first time the atomic bomb was dropped, killing more than one-hundred thousand people that first day. Thousands more died of radiation in Hiroshima and thousands more a few days later of a second bombing and radiation in Nagasaki.

A second reader reminded us of the continuing wars in the Mideast, Central America and Africa. A third reader called upon divine healing to empower persons in this ancient lands to peacemaking- many countries whose history evokes memories of the great prophets and peacemakers.

To the strumming of our guitarist, we joined together in singing, “O Healing River,” which concludes with “Let the seed of freedom, awake and flourish…”

I left the service with warm feelings and a sense of hope for our community’s developing peace movement. No, we can’t bring back those thousands of lives lost 70 years ago in Japan.

But we can honor their lives. We must work to prevent war. All of us. Indeed, there’s no better way to honor them.

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Salute to the fallen

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Robert Lansing in "Twelve O'Clock High"
Robert Lansing in “Twelve O’Clock High”

My earliest memory of Memorial Day takes me back to Defiance, Ohio, where I grew up.

It was called Decoration Day then. I recall that I rode my bike to the street next to the old high school. There I joined dozens of other kids to get our bikes decorated with red, white and blue streamers.

Somehow, we all got rolling together to the ball field across the river to hear commemorative speeches and honor those killed in America’s wars.

So much has changed since then. More wars. More deaths. More fallen to remember.

I plan to spend this Memorial Day reading on our back porch. No bike rides for me. My left foot is in a boot the podiatrist prescribed to give my heel a chance to repair itself. Meantime, I scanned the papers, first The Journal Gazette delivered early to our front door, and then the national papers on their web sites. Lots of tributes.

I was especially pleased that my former colleagues on the editorial page devoted a lengthy editorial to the memory of a young man who died in Iraq when his helicopter was shot down. I’ve been friends of his parents for years and visited the funeral home for the calling.

The holiday really began Sunday. During the day a race driver from Columbia won the Indianapolis 500. In the evening, PBS featured its annual concert from the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. I didn’t recognize the performers. I guess pop culture passed me by some time ago.

In 1992, when my wife Toni and I lived in D.C., son John happened to be visiting over the holiday. So we all hiked down to the Capitol for the Memorial Day event. Last night, as I watched the program on TV, it looked so much like the event we enjoyed in person.

Either live or on TV, you just had to be moved as one of the two celebrity master of ceremonies recognized the disabled veterans in the front row. One especially touching tribute this year told a story of one fallen young soldier whose widow fought back tears as a video captured his earlier life on the huge screen behind the stage.

At intervals throughout the program, battle scenes from various wars also flashed on that screen. When images from the Vietnam War appeared, I recalled the headline of an editorial I had written at war’s end: “The war we lost.”

I was reminded too of a line spoken by the actor Robert Lansing in a long-ago TV series, “Twelve O’Clock High.”

Asked whether America was winning the war, set during World War II, the Lansing character, a bomber pilot, declared, “There are no winners in war, some just lose more than others.”

I didn’t serve. I was too young to enlist or be drafted for World War II and Korea. I was a theological student and therefore not eligible for the draft during Vietnam. Years later, I taught peace studies at the regional campus for Indiana and Purdue universities in Fort Wayne.

Still, my opposition to war doesn’t diminish my respect for those young men and women who have given their lives in defense of our country. Their sacrifice of family or career, of long holidays with loved ones, reminds me that America is about a lot more than about making money.

Indeed, Americans of all races, creeds and family backgrounds have stood up for their country when it counted. Today, on this special holiday, I salute them all.

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The memory month

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It’s just one more day to New Year’s and already Christmas can seem ages ago. But I mean to remember.

Our immediate family convened at our Fort Wayne home Christmas Eve for beef roast, pumpkin pie and the annual gift exchange. I’m now wearing my new Swiss Army watch, something I’ve wanted for years. My wife Toni loves her new ring. That was the ring she picked out in the catalog. Guests included son John, his girlfriend Cynthia, daughter Robyn and her daughters, Tanya and that Cynthia and Toni’s sister Patti and about to be five granddaughter Mayzi.

The next day, we all loaded up the cars with presents, a chocolate pie, green beans and headed for North Manchester. That’s where we connected with Toni’s sister Vicki, her boys Noah and Rod, the latter’s wife Cassandra, their toddler Conner and infant Chloe.

For me, these annual holiday gatherings not only linger into the New Year. But when we meet family members again, I discover that the good fellowship of Christmas hasn’t faded as I might have feared. Rather, I realize each year that the get-togethers have deepened the relationships.

We’ve gotten to know one another better. We’ve discovered facets in others we might not have noticed before. This is has special meaning for me. As an only child, having my wife’s sisters as my family makes it a less solitary, lonely life for me, especially on holidays.

All this I file away. I am rich to overflowing with holiday memories. For years, Dad would remind me that his classmate Bus Day and I knocked over the Christmas tree at our home in Defiance, Ohio. We were just passing my new football back and forth. No, Dad’s reminders of this incident weren’t scoldings but his way of marking a time of fun and frolic.

Even when he was in pain and dying of cancer at age 60, he would smile whenever I brought up the great Christmas disaster in our living room.

For some reason, I’m more likely to associate Christmas holidays with Dad rather than Mom. It was with Dad that I headed north on Jefferson in search of the perfect Christmas tree. It was with Dad that we picked out a lazy Susan table as a present for Mom. It was with Dad that we had snowball fights. It was Dad who taught me how to build a snowman.

Years later, my first wife Wanda and I lived in her hometown of Dayton, Kentucky. The house had been her parents’ before they retired to Florida. Next door, the Houks had been long-time neighbors. One year, just days before Christmas, Bill Houk, a huge man, fully outfitted as Santa, knocked at the door, shouting “Merry Christmas.” He had a gift for our toddler Robyn who was the picture of surprise and excitement. Who could forget such a scene!

No doubt, every family that observes Christmas has its own store of memories. I’m must not be the only person who compares the holidays, one with another. For me, some are happier than others. I recall one Christmas toward the end of World War II at my grandparents in Latty, Ohio. It was a special time because my cousin Bob, then in the Navy, showed up. But I don’t think he told stories of one of his jobs after Pearl Harbor. He helped clear bodies from U.S. ships Japanese attack planes destroyed in the harbor.

What 12-year-old boy in 1950 would ever forget the Christmas morning when under the tree he discovered a 20-gauge Winchester shotgun he had been fondling at the hardware store on Clinton Street. Or minutes later, when dispatched to the kitchen to mix a drink for his Mom and Dad, discovered a new Schwinn bicycle with chrome fenders next to the kitchen table. Who could forget!

There are lots of ways to hang on to Christmas memories. You can record it all in a journal. You can swap stories with family members at the next reunion. Or, as I often do, you can savor the memories as you stare at the log alight in the fireplace.

Which might just suggest how the nativity stories Matthew and Luke related in their gospels got started. I can tell you one thing. I can never get enough.

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