This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC
Yesterday was the 69th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. I wasn’t alive for the original VE Day, but my Father, Alvin Owen Price, was. My dad, like millions of men of his generation, was a soldier in World War II. He served in the European theater.
And, like most of his contemporaries, he didn’t talk much about his war experiences. Over the years, I did learn some things. Never a fan of imposed authority, my dad spent much of his time rising in the Army ranks, only to be busted back down. He joked that he knew more about peeling potatoes on KP than firing his weapon on a battlefield. He was also convinced that the helmet the Army required him to wear made him go bald.
Actually, my dad didn’t need to use his weapon much. He was assigned to guard German prisoners-of-war. Every so often, some of the prisoners were flown back to the United States for further questioning. My dad would accompany them. They would fly into an airport near Fort Dix, New Jersey. It was on one of these trips to New Jersey that my story sort of begins.
One of the soldiers in his unit, Joe Falls, was a native of South Jersey. He told my dad that there was a city named Bridgeton about an hour away from Fort Dix that was known for its parties. My dad, never one to miss a chance to party, said that sounded good. So he and Falls obtained a weekend pass and traveled to Bridgeton.
Arriving in town, my dad and his friend headed to the dance hall. This is how my dad described what happened next. They walked in. My dad saw a woman pouring punch. He turned to Joe Falls and said, “See that woman. That is the woman I am going to marry.”
That woman was Mary Louise Ivins. She taught school and lived with her parents on a farm about 3 miles from Bridgeton.
Over the next couple of years, Alvin courted Louise. On May 9, 1945, the war in Europe ended. In 1946, my father was discharged from Fort Dix. Shortly thereafter, he married Mary Louise Ivins. In 1952, I was born. In 1972, my father died. Three years ago, after retiring, my wife and I left South Jersey and moved to Crystal City, just 3 Metro stops from DC.
And all of that brings us to yesterday, the 69th anniversary of the day the war my dad fought in ended.
One of the great things about living in the DC area is there is so much history here. So I decided to go to the World War II Memorial to pay tribute to all the men and women, but especially my father, who had fought for freedom.
It wasn’t my first visit. I’m sure it won’t be my last. But it was my first visit on VE Day. I could have gone in the morning when there was a special ceremony honoring World War II veterans. But I wanted a more private, personal experience.
The chairs were still set up from the morning’s ceremony, but they were empty now. Those vacant chairs served as a stark reminder that some day in the not-too-distant future there won’t be any World War II veterans to fill them. When I was growing up, it seemed that every man I met had fought in that war. They had escaped death on the battlefield, but no amount of courage can keep you from death forever. Today, about 555 World War II veterans die every day. At that rate, you can see that it won’t be long until they will all be gone.
For those of you who have never visited the World War II Memorial, if you put yourself in the right frame of mind, it can become hallowed ground.
The monument contains vertical markers of all the states and US territories that sent men and women to serve. I went first to the Texas marker. That was where my father was born, the son of Walter Lee and Zonie Mae Price. My dad’s parents were farmers, but the driving winds of the 1930s blew their small farm and their Texas dreams away. So, like the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, they loaded up their truck and headed west, eventually settling in Shelton, Washington. It was there that my dad enlisted.
I walked to the other side of the memorial to the Jersey marker. As I walked, I thought about the travels my dad made. From Texas to Washington state to Europe to New Jersey. I also thought about war – the cause for much of that movement. I never fought in a war. My son Michael never fought in a war. We both hope that neither of his children, Audrey or Owen, have to fight in a war. But my dad wasn’t that fortunate. He did fight in a war. Unlike so many others, he survived. Surrounded by reminders of death, I thought about life. To be more specific, I thought about the what ifs that come with life. What if my dad hadn’t survived the war? What if he hadn’t been assigned to guard German prisoners and come to New Jersey? What if Joe Falls hadn’t brought him to Bridgeton that night? What if Mary Louise Ivins had decided not to attend that dance?
But, of course, none of that mattered. For all those things did happen. Lost in reverie, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning, I saw an older man in a veterans’ cap. “Could you give something to help homeless veterans?” he asked. I looked in a my wallet. I had $9. I handed him a $5 bill. As sacrifices go, it wasn’t much, certainly nothing compared to all of those made from 1941 to 1945. My dad would have given all $9. He was that way. His generation was that way. That is why they deserve the label the Greatest Generation. Somehow, I believe they were made of sterner stuff.
It’s hard to follow heroes. But heroes show us how to live in tough times. Eventually they die, but their deeds live on. When he was little, I told Michael about the grandfather he never met. Both he and I will tell Audrey and Owen about their great-grandfather. I know they will both be interested, but Owen’s interest might be a little stronger since this is where he gets his first name.
And since they are now 6-and-a-half and 5, the next time they come to DC, I will take them to the World War II Memorial and tell them about all the heroes of that time. For, no matter what your age, you can never have too many heroes. And it’s the least I can do for a generation that gave so much.