On Memorial Day we honor the men and women who died while serving in the US military. Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday in May. It originated after the Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who died while in military service.
Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day, was established to commemorate the signing of the Armistice Treaty in Versailles in 1918 to mark the end of WWI, the Great War. It is celebrated on November 11 each year. It was changed in the United States to Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all veterans.
Both Memorial Day and Veterans Day are significant days to take a moment to remember and honor all of our armed services men and women, both past and present, who fight for our freedom.
Here are reflections and observations of one veteran who served during World War ll.
Letter from a Veteran – November 12, 1944
More than seventy years ago, one of the first women to serve in the military observed Veteran’s Day. She reflects on this and other experiences in her letters home. Mollie’s War is a memoir that features letters Mollie wrote to her sister, Beck, while stationed in Europe. “It describes the life of a WAC enlistee who would serve in England when it came under attack, France weeks after the invasion, and Germany after VE Day.”
“Here is my mother’s letter on the first Veteran’s Day in newly liberated Paris,” says Cyndee Schaffer, author of Mollie’s War, The Letters of a World War II WAC in Europe. www.mollieswar.com
Mollie Weinstein Schaffer, Cyndee’s mother, was one of the 150,000 women who served in the Women’s Army Corps (IWAC) during the Second World War. Of those, about 8,000 served in the European Theater of Operations.
Letter from Mollie from newly liberated Paris
Here are a few paragraphs from Mollie’s letter home.
Paris, France, 12 Nov.1944.
…Must tell you about the Armistice Day Parade here in Paris. I still recall the ones we used to go to—you, Jackie & myself—but this was really the “cat’s meow.” It started about 6 AM—maybe not actually but there were gendarmes (or draculas as we call them with their all-enveloping capes) & G.I.’s, too, directing crowds that early, lining up the streets near the Arc de Triomphe, along with the great numbers of people who probably ran back to get sandwiches & hustled back to regain choice spots from where they would have an advantageous view of the celebration. And, Beck, I think the parading or celebrating was still going on this morning.
Florence (another WAC) & myself left the office at 10:30 AM & we made a “bee line” for Champs Elysees (one of the main streets in Paris that runs into the Arc de Triomphe). Honestly the people were packed like sardines (trite but true). Florence & I were standing on tip toes but couldn’t see very much. All of a sudden I felt my feet leave the ground & I had a most wonderful view of marching soldiers. I turned around as I felt myself being put gently back to earth—it was the captain! I thanked him & both Florence & I laughed. We walked farther on & we decided to stand back near the buildings away from the crowds along the streets. We did have a better view. We saw Churchill go by in a car but weren’t quite sure. However, when we heard the people shouting “Vive Churchill,” that confined it. Besides I had said to Florence “I know we have a long range view of the parade, but no one but Churchill’s cheeks are puffed out like that!”
The one minute’s silence at 11 AM brought to mind the folks back home—wonder when we’ll be coming home. I know, Beck, it won’t be too soon. …” You can read the full letter from Paris here: Mollie_Letter_Home_Veterans_Day.
Letter to Mollie from Joe
“ ‘My mama wore combat boots’. When you are the daughter of a WWII WAC, that statement resonates with you,” Cyndee says. “Yes, my mother wore combat boots and that brought a legacy with it. The one outstanding quality throughout my mother’s letters and the letters that were sent to her was the fact that everyone wrote such beautiful ones. Here is probably the most touching letter, the one from Joe. I tried to find him when I was writing the book but I could not.” Here’s just a few of his thoughts.
Sept 5th 1945
“My darling sweetheart – no that’s too informal, Dear Sergeant Molly – no that’s too G.I., Dear Friend – nope too cold, I know… Hi Callahan!
“You see, I told you I’d drop you a line (or should I say a note because good l’il WACs stay away from those bad boys with “lines”?) I finally caught a ride home but it was the next morning after the dance about 10:00. I spent the night in the transit barracks in Frankfurt. It was much too cold and dark to try those 60 kilometers home. I got home in time for dinner so I didn’t miss much time hitch-hiking on the road.
“I wanted to tell you though—thanks, honey I had a swell time. I only hope I didn’t scare you too much with all that chatter. Actually, I’m not such a talkative fellow as I may have seemed. But you can’t really understand what being at that dance meant to me. Honestly it was the first American dance I’ve been to since I came overseas twenty months ago. I was as happy as a lark and I guess I showed it a little more than somewhat?” …
“…Be a good girl. Work hard but most of all, stay as sweet and as kind as you are.
You can read the full letter from Joe here: Joe_Letter_to_Mollie_World_War_II.
More than seventy years may have passed as we observe this Memorial Day, and we will always remember our veterans.