Angels have always played a major role in the Christian faith and so I thought it fitting to head this story with the picture of an angel - a very special angel who stands watch over one of those large American Veterans Cemeteries of Europe - at Henri-Chapelle, Belgium. That angel has great significance to me as I consider its designer to be my main inspiration for entering the field of sculpture. I have recently written a story on how it all came about, and I am very proud for the opportunity to link my name with that of Donal Hord, of San Diego, though he is now long deceased.
Hord's assistant, Homer Dana, graciously sent me an entire set of 8x10 photos of Hord's work and gave me permission to use them in any constructive way.
At my age now (approaching the mid-80s) I consider myself fortunate to be able to look backward for so many years. When I was a child, the "old" folks of the time used to talk about all the horrors of World War I - and my generation of school-kids was actually taught many of the songs from that war. My aunt and uncle (the ones from my recent Texas/Mexico story used to relay stories to me about that war, although my uncle just barely missed being in it! He had been drafted at Fort Oglethorpe, had been assigned all his gear, and was wearing his uniform on the day the Armistice was signed in 1918 - 99 years ago! No human being on earth was ever happier to be "saved by the bell" than my Uncle Forrest Martin! He simply caught the bus from "Fort O" and went back home to his wife in Chattanooga! But thousands of others were not so fortunate, and the killing and maiming reached unbelievable levels before the war ended. Although that terrible conflict was long past, my generation could still feel the heat from it, even as the new war - World War Two - was erupting.
When that second war did end at last, in 1945, prospects for the future looked very bright because "the boys" began to come home again, rationing went away, and everybody was eating steak again! The economy kept getting stronger, the Russians were our new friends for fighting so bravely against Hitler, and I distinctly remember my fifth grade teacher actually praising the still-new Communist regime for putting real shoes on the Russian peasant-women's feet! It was exactly at that point, however, where everything started going south again! An "Iron Curtain" was soon lowered (by Russian dictator Stalin) dividing east from west. Russia had decisively and willfully shut itself off from "The West". Secrecy prevailed, tensions ran high between us and them - and a "Cold War" broke out. Although called "Cold" it was actually pretty warm (if not exactly "hot"), as far-flung military posts had to still be maintained - and staffed with entire new generations of draftees. It was the time when those capable of it (financially) added fall-out shelters to their homes and laid in staple food and water supplies in fear of a dreaded nuclear war. America still had to keep her grip on unresolved problems from the past, and after VE (Victory in Europe) day, there was still a war raging in Asia......
I was too young for that second war, although I had two first cousins, James L. and Harold J. Martin who saw active duty, returning years later to tell about it. It was very common back then to see little red, white and blue banners hanging in front-room windows of homes - the white being always a star which denoted a soldier on active duty, and who was alive. Sometimes there might be two white stars - or even more in rare cases. But sometimes it was not too uncommon to see an occasional gold star instead of a white - and here in Chattanooga there was the extremely rare occurrence of four gold stars from a single family. The entire city of Chattanooga turned out to witness the burial of those four Gold Star Brothers in National Cemetery.
It is true that "the boys" of World War II are now all very old men and are falling rapidly. Herman Ernst, a local wartime "flying ace," died several years ago. He, his wife and family, had been our good neighbors for several years as I was growing up; we felt very close to them. My mother and Mrs. Ernst became great friends disregarding their differences in age. And Garland Pobletts - father of our dear sister-in-law at Knoxville (Carol Pobletts Parnell) - died only recently, having almost reached his 100th year. (1918-2017). My local veteran friend here in Chattanooga - and a popular teacher at Ringgold HS - Walter Nash, had lamented that there were war memorials for Korea and Vietnam, though at that time none for World War II. Sadly, Walter never got to see it, but Garland Pobletts was very lucky to live so long and actually saw the fine new WWII Memorial in Washington. His loving daughter, Carol Parnell, flew from Knoxville to Miami just to escort her father on a whirlwind day-long excursion to visit that worthy monument (which is full of excellent relief sculptures, by the way). All major phases of that war are thusly depicted. Mr. Pobletts later served in the Korean War as well. I do not think that Louie Starnes was so lucky as to see the WWII Memorial. (He was the husband of my First Cousin, Doris Martin).
THESE boys were given ticker-tape parades in New York City when they came home, for their bravery, and the belief that they had saved the world! And they HAD INDEED saved America's life. If they had not, then, "you would either be goose-stepping today - or be a lamp-shade!" (A quote I like from an unknown source!) But the veterans of a later war - the terrible one with Vietnam - received a totally different reception - one that we do not like to remember because of all its conflicts of thinking and belief. Those boys received a very shameful reception to say the least.
All my Depression-Era friends have wondered out loud if the young men and women of the present generation would be ready for any new fight that might come along. And somehow, I think they might be able to lay their video games and iPhones aside long enough to rise to the occasion in the same ways as their grandfathers. The new challenges are just that: they are "new". The enemies facing us today are vastly different from those of the past; the battlefields far more uncertain than those of my day and it will take those who know and understand the (to me) nebulous world of the Computer Age to fight those new wars.
MAY GOD BLESS ALL THE OLD VETERANS - the Starneses, Nashes, Pobletts, Smiths, Browns, and Joneses; YOUR OWN GRANDFATHERS AND GRANDMOTHERS - INCLUDING THOSE WHO LIE IN FOREIGN BATTLEFIELD CEMETERIES OF OUR PAST WARS! MAY HEAVEN'S ANGELS ATTEND THEM ALL!
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Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter, sculptor and artisan as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at email@example.com.