Monday, May 25, 2015

Peter W. Strine - Memorial Day 2015

I have written on Memorial Day in years past.  Today I got up early before the rain, and drove over  to Crete, Illinois to a cemetery that I visited many times as a child.  It's not far.  My mom took me there.  Her fiance is buried there.  I found his stone again without much trouble because his parents' stone is upright and clearly visible.

My mom honored him on the World War II site - I don't think he was a "Jr."  His father's name was Peter S., not Peter W.  My mom recalled him being a member of the 517th Parachute Infantry (not the 513th), 82nd Airborne (not the 17th), but in the uniform photos below he is wearing the 17th AB Division shoulder insignia, so it's likely that the headstone is correct.

Here are the photos that my mother kept, and following them, her memories of his death.

Here is the grave site in July 1963 - my mom planted this peony.  It's not there any longer.

 Based on the clothing, I think these two were taken the same day - sometime in the late 1930s is my guess.

And these - perhaps the early 1940s saluting for the camera?

In uniform - already a sergeant - I think his stripes denote Staff Sergeant.

According to the license plate on the vehicle, this series - with my mom - was taken in 1943.

I don't know when these were taken - but they had to be in the early 1940s at restaurants - back in the day nice restaurants had photographers who would take your picture at the table.

And then this - cut from the newspaper in 1945 . . .

In 1973, for the first class that she took when she went back to school to earn her Bachelor's Degree, my mom wrote a journal (that she lost and had to recreate) about Life, Time, and Death and made a short film with a cassette tape for sound.  I don't know what's happened to the film or the casette she recorded to go with it.  I know I was in high school when she made it and I was playing my guitar and singing the slow intro to Here, by America.
"I am thinking 
'bout the days 
We'd led ourselves astray 
In more than many ways 
Here, within the time we've spent 
Wonderin' what we meant 
By livin' all those years 
By livin' all those years"
She shared her journal and film with her classmates - there are notes from one of them and from her teacher in the notebook.  In memory of her fiance, Peter W. Strine, I would like to share one of her Death entries with you, entitled "Reflections on Death - 1."
My first occasion to seriously contemplate death was on the death of the first young man I was interested in. I had known Peter in High School and he joined the Army - just as we became involved in WWII. He was in the service in various parts of this country and finally volunteered to become a paratrooper in order to serve overseas. He went all through the war as part of a small group used as shock troops in Italy, Belgium, etc. He was waiting for a ship to come home, in a town called Nancy, France at a rest camp, when he became ill and died on July 12, 1945. I first got word of his death on August 13, 1945, ironically, V-J Day. The war was over.
At first, I couldn't believe it was true - the war was over in Europe and had been since sometme in May, surely it was a some kind of ghastly mistake.
We had planned to be married that fall and I had one pair of nylon stockings I was saving. Most of you are too young to know about rationing but during WWII many things were hard to get - Kleexex, cigarettes, nylons, etc. Also the nylons that first came on the market were made to last - they don't make them like that anymore.

The day after I heard of Peter's death I decided to ride the "L" downtown - I don't know why - I usually took the I.C. train - I lived in South Shore at that time. I took a street car to the "L" - I guess maybe I took this mode of transportation because I wanted to be alone in my grief and surrounded by strangers. I could think whatever I wanted to without anyone I knew greeting me.

I looked out of the dirty "L" windows as the train wove its way down the back entrances of what were to become slums in the Woodlawn area. The sun was shining brightly and people were laughing and talking and going about their business as though nothing had happened - I wanted to stop them - I wanted to know why, then it suddenly came to me that why should they not? Nothing had happened to them - they didn't know about Peter.

I then thought, who cares? Who really cares or knows? About anyone - and then I knew that he would only be remembered by those who knew and loved him for he had only lived 22 years. Twenty two years - so long and yet so short. It has now been 28 years since that time. Just think, he will always be remembered as a young handsome man with dark brown laughing eyes and wavy hair, forever young. Another thought was did his parents ever think when he was a baby that they were going to nurture him to maturity and then he was going to fight a war and die?

It seemed very unfair to think of this boy dying before he had a chance to do any of the things most of us have a chance to do. Marry, have children, be successful at a calling, grow old, have grandchildren.

I believe that day I suddenly realized that nothing is forever and people only live on in the hearts of those their lives have touched and then, unless they have left something as a memento - a work of art or achieved special acclaim as an important person, no one will remember them because after everyone they knew is dead, who is left to remember.
 So, today, I honor the memory of a man I never knew. A man who died 70 years ago. The man my mother would have married - who made it all the way through the war and who was waiting to come home to her when he contracted what his death certificate called a "child's fever" and died in Nancy, France.

Lest we forget . . .


Paula said...

Very touching.

A :-) said...

Thanks, Paula.

Michelle said...

What a touching part of your history. Thank-you for sharing it.

A :-) said...

Thanks Michelle :-)

Ely said...

Oh, this totally made me cry but your mother's Reflection was beautiful and spoke to my heart. Thanks for sharing.

A :-) said...

Ely - thank you.

julianna potito said...

This is a wonderful tribute to both Peter, and your mom. It makes me wonder why do we not share more stories like these to all. Thanks for your generosity for a private look into you and your mother's thoughts. Jill