June 16, 2024

Memories of June 1944

Mike Lang

June 6, 1944. I was 5 years old and had just completed kindergarten at Blaine Sumner Elementary school in Peoria, Illinois. My father had served in the United States Army in the mid 1930s, and during World War II, he was the office manager for the Peoria Packing Plant. Of course, at the age of 5, I had no idea that a war was being fought nearly all over the world.

Following the war, I discovered that my father’s prior service, the number of children he had (three) and the importance of his job to the war effort had somehow prevented him from being drafted into the Army. My father later told about how many trainloads of beef and pork that his company processed and shipped to Russia during the war. Not only was the United States the supplier of military arms to our allies, we became the bread basket of the free world.

While, of course, I had no idea of the war, I was involved in some of the efforts on the home front. As the oldest child, my job was to flatten all of the tin cans for recycling. We saved papers for the paper drive.

Our house was situated so that both the front door and back door opened onto a street. I remember the old men driving a horse drawn wagon to pick up the used tin cans and papers. I enjoyed talking with them. I had no idea of the importance of our trash to the war effort.

Going out of our back door and crossing the street there was an entire city block that was dedicated to a city park. In the center of the block was a public library. This library became my home away from home. My love affair with books began when my parents allowed me to go to the library by myself.

Just a couple of blocks from our house were the streetcar lines. I often rode the street car with my mother when she went shopping. I remember the times we rode the street car to one of the downtown department stores.

Laundry soap, along with nearly everything else, was in very short supply. It was a big deal when there was some available. It always drew a big crowd.

My father owned an automobile. During the War, we almost never drove the car.

Two events associated with the war remain vivid in my memory. The first was the celebration following the end of the War in Europe. When the armistice was announced there was a massive, spontaneous, celebration of the event in downtown Peoria. My dad drove the family to town in the auto. There seemed to be thousands of people, making all sorts of joyful noise. The crowd was huge. I really did not understand the reason behind the celebration until years later, after studing the history of World War Two.

The second event was just as joyful, just as noisy and to a child just as not understandable. That event was when the war with Japan was declared over. There was a repeat of the earlier celebration when Germany was defeated.

We have just completed the celebration of the June 1944 invasion of Europe by the allies. Unless you have deliberately ignored this, you have been reminded of the tremendous sacrifice of the brave men and women of the United States and Allied forces on “D” Day, June 6, 1944. An incredible number of men were participants in the invasion of Europe. An incredible number of these brave men were killed or wounded. Their lives either cut short, or suffering from battle wounds, these men and women made the supreme sacrifice.

Because of their incredible bravery, our military forces were able to gain important positions on the east coast of Europe. Our losses were staggering. We cannot thank these men enough.

Something we seldom think of, is the impact of so many young men being killed so quickly and so young. About four years later my dad took a job in Cedar Rapids and moved the family there. I soon was able to take over a paper route, delivering the morning Des Mones Register. I quickly noticed, as I was delivering papers, or collecting payment for them, a great number of homes with a cardboard placard in the window with a gold star on the placard.

These Gold Stars, I would discover years later, indicated that the resident of the home had lost a son or daughter in World War II. As a child, I had no idea of the grief and sorrow represented by the Gold Star. Over the years the Gold Stars slowly disappeared, as the survivors slowly died of age and grief.

We cannot properly thank the countless men and women who gave their lives to defeat evil in the world. God willing, we will never have to duplicate their endeavors.

Mike Lang, Chairman, Union County Republican Central Committee