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War and the Home Front


The effects of war are immediate, personal and direct. But there are long term consequences that extend to areas not directly touched by conflict; they do so for decades–lifetimes–beyond any cease fire. Technically, I was born during World War II, four months prior to victory in Europe; seven before the last shots in the Pacific theater. So the majority of my memories about WWII have to do with rebuilding efforts at home and abroad.


Next to my childhood bed there was a bookshelf–my mother’s probably–filled with mysteries and Westerns; Zane Grey comes to mind. But there was also a pile of magazines that may have been the first things I read–a monthly titled Your Victory Garden. This small-format periodical held a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of gardening (planting, fertilizing, weed and pest control), about canning and drying, and nutrition. Howard Tabor (almost my exact contemporary, by the way) wrote a piece about his community’s garden plots for the war effort (which I can share, if anyone is interested). This will have to be the way I cope with War and weave it into Agincourt’s history.

Agincourt would have been touched by war in many ways. Certainly there was the human toll: soldiers and non-combatants who didn’t come home. It is an error to say that their lives were lost; that hackneyed phrase misses on two counts. First, its verb is passive rather than active. And second those lives were given for a cause far beyond any individual. Yes, there are stupid losses, like Pat Tillman. His life was neither given nor lost; it was taken.

Another tragedy of war is its effect on civilians. I recall in second or third grade when a girl joined our class. She was English, I think, but different from most of us in another way. Actually, she hadn’t crossed my mind until last night and the intervening fifty-plus years haven’t improved my memory. So “skittish, shy and suspicious” is the best I can do at this distance. We were told that she was one of the smaller casualties of war, a displaced person born into the very conflict I didn’t know. I later learned that many British children had been sent to live in Canada and the States during the war itself, to avoid the stress of bomb shelters and wartime deprivations. You have to wonder if the cure was more stressful than the disease.

Displaced persons–uncharitably termed DPs (“deepees”)–were common in Chicago, probably because we already had large populations of Poles, Lithuanians, Hungarians and others displaced by Soviet occupation of their former homelands. “DP” was also shorthand for “dumb Polack,” a phrase I heard often but refused to claim, as a person of Polish ancestry. How many of these refugees–adults and children–might have found their way to Agincourt’s quiet calm? Howard will probably tell me when he’s ready.

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