Thistles Cut, Ironing Done

15. LIFE TAKES A TURN

In response to the turmoil created by Hitler in Europe, United States Congress passed a law in 1940 requiring all young men to receive military training for one year. That summer I met Howard Justiss at the University of Colorado. He was principal of the high school in Daingerfield, Texas, studying for the Masters Degree in Education. I was there from Markesan, Wisconsin where I taught third and fourth grades. I was taking graduate courses, but I liked trips in the mountains better than studying History of Education.

The next spring Howard was drafted into the Army on March 12, 1941. His number was one of the first to be drawn in Morris County, Texas. He was sent for basic training in the Medical Corps at Camp Grant near Rockford, Illinois. I lived with my parents and brother just over one hundred miles north.


1941 Sheldon, Dad and Mother


Among my father's many brothers and sisters there had been celebrations of silver weddings. My mother mentioned that no one had arranged a celebration for my father and her on their twenty-fifth anniversary. In December 1941 my parents had been married thirty-six years. Dad's sisters arranged with my mother's three sisters and brothers to surprise my parents with a dinner on December seventh. (They chose that date because it was a Sunday. My folks would be suspicious of dinner "out" on a Saturday. We wanted to surprise them.)

My assignment was to get Dad and Mother to the hotel in the small city of Waupun, where the dining rooms were being arranged to accommodate the many members of both the Schwandt and Sommers families. I suggested to my parents, "Let me take you to dinner on Sunday, since you have your anniversary on the sixth. Mother liked to eat in a restaurant very much. She had prepared so many meals in her life that it was a treat to sit down and be served. They readily agreed to my invitation.

On that grey December Sunday as we neared Waupun Dad said, "Let's eat at that restaurant that we liked so well a few months ago." I agreed that it was a fine place to eat, but, I said, "Today we will try the Hotel. I'm told it serves very good food." I was secretly amused at the idea of the three of us enjoying a meal at the restaurant while the crowd of relatives waited at the Hotel. If he had been at all suspicious he might have insisted on doing exactly that. He would have enjoyed outwitting them.

He gave me a reproachful look when I helped him (He was already beginning the helplessness that comes with Parkinson's Disease.) into the dining room where the crowd of relatives stood waiting.

After a fine meal there were a few brief remarks and poems read by some of the family. We sang together and Alva Wilsie played on the piano one of Dad's favorite songs, "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen."

As we went through the lobby in the late afternoon. We heard a radio continuously repeating the news that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, followed by a few words describing the destruction of our biggest ships. Until that moment I had never heard of Pearl Harbor or that most of our large Naval force was there. Now the events in that remote place were to definitely affect my life as well as the lives of people in our country and around the world.

My first thought was of Howard's status. Even though the draft law specified one year of training, I wondered if this disaster would effect a change.

December 7, 1941 is a day I can't forget. Life was changed. The War that followed changed society everywhere. People of the States were introduced to names of places we had never pointed out on maps in our geography lessons: Salerno, Casa Blanca and in the Pacific; Bataan Peninsula, Okinawa, Iwo Jima and the Mariannas, Marshall and Caroline Islands. Now we heard them on the daily news broadcasts as reporters tried to keep us informed of our military positions. Technological changes to match science fiction occurred and they have continued into 1991 as we have seen in the Desert Storm Operation. Stepping back to simpler ways of life is impossible.

December 7, 1941 was a happy day for my parents and me. They were pleased to have been honored and liked being with their families. But it was a day of shock and sorrow for other families. Even in our small town, Markesan, we grieved over the loss of a very young man, Keefe Connolly on one of the ships destroyed at Pearl Harbor.

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