-- Almuth F. Payne,
The War Effort Hits Home
When our country entered the war, I was 7. Every eligible male in our family signed up. People at home joined in the war effort -- collecting tin cans and other metal for the scrap drive, buying war stamps to turn in for bonds, saving ration coupons for foods in short supply and openly deploring "hoarders."
The ship that our dad commanded survived torpedo attacks, and he made it home. His youngest brother didn't. Flying a mission out of England, he went down in the North Sea. Mom's younger brother was lost in a typhoon off Luzon in the Philippines. A cousin was killed in Holland, one day before "Victory in Europe." He was barely 19.
We children quickly grew accustomed to grief -- watching bad news delivered; catching our elders unawares, tears streaming down their cheeks. We were never spared much of anything, which in a way was good, because it hardened us for what could possibly come.
When the war finally ended, my dad's father said of the jubilation that followed, "This should be a solemn occasion." Even I understood him. He'd lost a son.
-- Patricia E. Marti, Columbia
A Childhood Strafed by War
At 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 30, 1939, at my school in Helsinki, my classmates and I were startled by the sound of gunfire. We ran to the corner window and saw, on the rooftop of the high school across the street, machine guns firing at airplanes overhead.
Our teacher told us that Helsinki was under bombardment -- war between Finland and the Soviet Union had started. She told us to hurry down to the lobby and remain there. At 2 p.m., a policeman on a bicycle came to tell us that we should hurry home. At 3 p.m., our now-empty school was hit and destroyed.
The next day, all children younger than 16 were evacuated from the city. When we returned in January 1940, the government had managed to find us a "new" school -- a dilapidated factory with beat-up desks. We didn't care. We were simply happy to be alive and see each other again.
In March 1940, Finland and the Soviet Union signed a cease-fire that lasted until midsummer 1941. Then the war started again and lasted until the fall of 1945. By that time, I had graduated from high school. But I think we were all affected by the first day of the war, realizing that our sunny childhood was over -- and that everything can change in one split second.
-- Rhode Stone, Annandale
The 'Greatest' Story Never Told
When the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, I was managing editor of Bomb Rack, the weekly newspaper of the 20th Air Force. About that time, the editor and I were summoned to nearby Tinian. There, we were told that we could talk to the enlisted men in the flight crew of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that had dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
That was the good news. The bad news: We were told that we could not print anything we heard. The Manhattan Project was still uptight.
The only new thing we learned during our conversation with the crew was the shock wave story. Col. Paul Tibbets, the commander of the Enola Gay, had told the crew to expect a shock wave. The crew felt it and thought nothing of it. Very soon there was a second shock wave, the crew told us, and most were scared. "We thought we had been hit by flak," one crewman said. "Colonel Tibbets hadn't mentioned a second shock wave." But it was quickly determined that all was well.
As a GI newsman, I said it was the greatest news story I never wrote.
-- Ben Zinser, Long Beach, Calif.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company