A HISTORY OF CONFLICT
REMEMBERING A SEPTEMBER 72 YEARS AGO
©Edward R. Close September 2017
It seems that human beings are a volatile and unstable species. Our history on this planet is dotted with horrible wars and millions of war-related innocent deaths. The little valley where I was born is no exception. In the center of the Louisiana Purchase, Arcadia Valley had been affected by the French and Indian wars, the Civil War, World War I and World War II by the time I was 10 years old.
The first European settlement in the Valley, on Stout’s Creek, was burned to the ground and all the settlers massacred by Native Americans in the winter of 1780. As a child, I played in and around the earthen works of Fort Davidson, the site of the Battle of Pilot Knob, which took place in 1864, occasionally finding arrowheads, lead bullets and cannonballs, relics of the massacre of 1780 and the Civil War 84 years later. In the early 1900s the first automobiles required better roads than the horse and wagon, and when a road bed was excavated near Fort Davidson a mass grave of Civil War soldiers was discovered. The site is now a State Historical Park. Bloody war with hand-to-hand combat has not occurred in the Valley since 1864, but before another 84 years passed, residents were impacted by the effects of World I and World War II.
I have vivid memories of life in the Valley during World War II: Air-raid drills, nightly blackouts and food rationing. My father, who was Tri-City Constable in Arcadia Valley at the time, obtained full-face gas masks for himself, my mother and me. I was fascinated with the masks. I still remember the sounds of the flap valves opening and closing as I breathed in and out. We planted Victory Gardens to assure that we had food if the large cities and transportation routes were destroyed.
Even though the war in Europe seemed very far away, we were told daily by radio, newspapers and even comic books, that Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Hiro-Hito were evil men, it was even suggested that the Japanese were not really human! And that this axis of evil was bent on destroying our world. Why, I wondered, would the Japanese, Germans and Italians want to bomb our little town in the middle of the San Francois Mountains? I didn’t know at the time that we were located only about twenty miles from the largest high-grade lead mines in the world, the source of most of the bullets used by US armed forces in World War I and II. And the iron mines in our valley and the next valley north, were primary sources of the iron ore used to make everything from guns to tanks for the war effort. We were only about 70 miles from a large secret underground storage of aviation fuel, and about the same distance from a large scale Uranium 238 processing facility. We were in the middle of important targets for the enemy.
My fraternal grandfather was a son of German immigrants, and there were many families of German origin in the valley, along with a mix of people of almost every other European heritage who had been drawn to this area to work in the mines. Long before World War I, my Great-grandparents had discouraged their children and grandchildren from learning German. Their attitude was: “We are Americans now, so we must be Americans and speak English.” Still, as World War II loomed, there were German sympathizers in the Valley, and in 1936 the Nazi Bund established a local chapter in the Valley.
My dad, who was half German and half Irish, born in the major mining town of Saint Francois County Missssouri in 1908, volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1925, and served for four years in Hawaii, returning home to marry and start a family before World War II began in Europe. He knew about the NAZI Bund in the Valley, but would have nothing to do with it. In 1941, when the US entered World War II, he was still under draft age, so he volunteered for the Navy, and served as a member of the Amphibian Scouts and Raiders, known today as the US Navy Seals. He was on the Treasure Island Naval Base in San Francisco Bay with the men of Operation Olympic, set to invade the Japanese homeland, when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. President Harry S. Truman, also a Missourian, decided to drop the bombs, in part, because of the anticipation of up to 90% US casualties in the invasion.
With the fall of the NAZI’s Third Reich in May1945, and the surrender of the Japanese, signed on board the USS Missouri September 2, 1945, World War II officially ended. I remember the day well. When we received the news via Radio KMOX broadcasting from St. Louis, a wave of emotion swept across the Valley, and the jubilant residents of our town drove up and down the main street, Missouri Route 21, shouting, blowing horns and waving American flags. The WAR WAS OVER! But many waited in vain for their fathers, sons and brothers to come home. More than 400,000 US service personnel were killed in the war. I was luckier than some of my friends; my father did come home.
If President Truman hadn’t ordered the bombs to fall, Operation Olympic was scheduled to leave the West Coast of the US for Japan in early September 1945. My father, a member of a platoon of Amphibian Scouts and Raiders would have been in the first wave to land on the beaches of Japan. Their job was to sabotage key Japanese facilities in advance of fourteen Combat Divisions of Soldiers and Marines, the main invasion force, which was to land on November 1.
Scroll down to the post below to read my address to the members of the Academy for the Advancement of Post-Materialist Science, August 26, 2017.