War Children and War Orphans
For War Children and War Orphans, the victories in the early days of June, 1944 were costly. My father was a veteran of Normandy; but he lost his life later in the war. We aren’t celebrating the lives lost. We are celebrating the freedoms won on this, the 75th anniversary.
There are tens of thousands of war children and war orphans. Our lives were transformed by war. Children were affected on both sides of the fence. The costs to children have been little noticed, or written about. Where were the safe spaces for us? I never had a place where I could go to grieve, or be comforted. No one provided any of us with hot chocolate or play dough to distract us from the realization of our great loss. We lost an important person who was not a part of our life, except in their deaths.
No one helped us overcome our grief, or feelings of isolation, or loneliness. There is a book, Lost in the Victory: Reflections of American War Orphans of World War II, by Susan Hadler and Ann Mix, and also a website www.awon.org, founded in 1991, by Ann Mix. The book and the website reflect on the lives of war children and war orphans, whose fathers were lost in WWII. We are all “lost,” whether in victory or defeat. The children of dead soldiers mourn on both sides of every conflict.
The War is Never Over
This month we celebrate the anniversary of D-Day. We want to honor those who fought and died on the beaches of Normandy to free the world from Nazi Germany. For the children left behind, that victory has been bittersweet. We are like the few surviving veterans of WWII; our time for being a war orphan is drawing to a close.
My father was a Glider Pilot who lost his life while training for the Rhine River crossing into Germany in 1945. I was eight months old. In the book, Into the Valley: The Untold Story of USAAF Troop Carrier in World War II, by Colonel Charles H. Young, there is a description of my father’s accident.
“The training regimen, which included every aspect—both mental and physical—was intense, as was the winter weather. A new airfield—at Tours—[France] was added by the 439th. Designated A-39B, it was used for intensified glider training and practice. Two glider pilots of the 94th TCS, Walter B. Lindberg, and Elden W. Mueller, both veterans of Normandy, Southern France and Holland, were killed when the tail of their glider was struck by a towrope from a C-47. The tail section was severed, and the glider fell uncontrollably to earth, its nose penetrating six feet into the hard, winter ground.”
For the war children and war orphans, the war was never really over. My father’s death has been like wearing a scarlet letter, because it is the first thing people learn about me. Today, children of veterans killed in action belong to Gold Star families. I have never been designated as a Gold Star daughter.
When I was four, my father’s body was brought from Paris, France, to the United States to be buried in Los Angeles, California. There was a funeral; but my mother did not go. She never even visited the burial site. I did not learn the exact location until I was 42 years old. I went there to see it for myself.
When I was in elementary school, the first thing I learned about war was the air raid drills we had. Later, I learned about the Holocaust and the tragedies of the Jews. The war was never talked about with regard to how the war children and war orphans were functioning in our world of poverty and sorrow. The war was never about us, right here in front of us, but it was somewhere far away in the distant past.
The Culture of War
One of the great historians of war culture is Martin van Creveld, a scholar who has written about the many aspects and analyses of war, which are often overlooked. In his book, The Culture of War, he argues that, “. . . there is much more to war than just soldiers killing one another for whatever reason.” The war children and war orphans left behind are an example of how war is much more than battles won and/or soldiers lost. Whenever evaluating events, we ask ourselves, not how much does it cost, but what is it worth? The cost was a life without our fathers; but we believe it was worth the freedom our children are enjoying.
Though I am one of those war orphans, I live in the United States of America. Freedom has been my inheritance from the many wars fought, both here, and on foreign soil. I visited Normandy on D-Day several years ago. Here are some pictures depicting the sacrifices made.
The beach above is sacred ground. No one is allowed to fish, surf, or sun bathe on the beach. It is a tranquil place today, much different than in June 1944, as depicted below on the same beach.
A Multitude of Gratitude
As I walked among the groups of people who were there on that D-Day, I encountered French teenagers who had made a pilgrimage to pay their respects. When they learned I was an American, and heard my story, tears welled up in their eyes. They expressed heart-felt appreciation for the sacrifices that were made for them.
I was amazed that so many young people had such gratitude for the lives lost on behalf of their country. We were able to bond immediately with hugs and instant friendship. All my life I knew my father died for a cause; but at that moment I realized the impact of war spans many generations, not just mine.