Commemorate end of World War II on Spirit of ’45 Day

August 9, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

The guns fell silent and World War II ended as Japan surrendered Aug. 15, 1945 — Aug. 14 in the United States due to the time difference across the Pacific Ocean.

In the 66 years since the conflict came to a close, the accomplishments of the greatest generation — the nickname comes from a 1998 Tom Brokaw account — turned into near-legends. In order to commemorate the feats and the way ordinary citizens pulled together for the war effort, the Issaquah History Museums plan to celebrate Spirit of ’45 Day on Aug. 14 to mark the end to the long conflict.

“People made some amazing sacrifices and contributions,” museums Executive Director Erica Maniez said. “I think that really contributed to a lot of feelings of unity, not just on a local level, but on a national level.”

Overall, more than 16 million people served in the armed forces during World War II. The National World War II Museum estimates about 1,000 veterans of the conflict die each day.

“It’s amazing to me to get the individual stories about what all the national themes really meant on a day-to-day basis,” Maniez said. “What was it really like to be in the Pacific worrying about a Japanese kamikaze pilot flying into your ship?”

In Issaquah, residents endured wartime rationing and noted wartime activities in a spotter’s log at the firehouse. Maniez describes World War II as much more hands-on for citizens on the home front than subsequent conflicts.

“Everyone in the town, even the people that were here, felt like they were all together and they were all working for the same thing,” she said. “Everybody was really focused on what they could do as individuals in order to further the war effort.”

Like small towns from coast to coast, Issaquah sent men — including Bill Evans and Rob Pickering — and women to the front lines in Europe and the Pacific. The history museums later collected wartime tales from Evans and Pickering as part of a comprehensive oral-history project.

Pickering served in the Navy in the Pacific and handled numerous tasks in less-than-ideal circumstances.

“Oh, worked on airplanes. Loaded supplies to the front lines. Took wounded off. Just a whole, whole lot of stuff,” he recalled in the 2006 oral-history project interview. “It wasn’t very pleasant. Food was lousy. The water was lousy.”

Evans served as a medic during World War II — and received a crash-course in medical training in Hawaii. The training including practicing syringe use on other trainees.

“One would stick the other one until he could hit a vein, or an artery. I think these were veins then. When you’d get sick to your stomach from the needle and the pain and everything, then it’s your turn to stick the other guy,” he recalled in the 2006 oral-history project interview. “That was the first medical training I got. I didn’t get much more for a long time.”

The idea of regular people rising to meet challenges also continues to resonate almost 70 years since the conflict ended.

“It’s really important to examine the experiences of the individual people, because it just makes for a richer understanding of what the significance of the war was,” Maniez said. “We hear about it all the time in a global and a national context, but when you think about it on the very local context, when you think about these kids from Issaquah, for whom maybe a big trip was across the bridge to go to Seattle, and here they are in the Pacific theater, farther than they’ve ever been from home and with totally different people.”

World War II oral histories

For a comprehensive oral-history project, the Issaquah History Museums interviewed longtime and prominent Issaquah residents about city history and how global events impacted the then-tiny town. World War II reshaped the rural community.

Issaquah resident Bill Evans served as a medic during World War II after receiving some abbreviated training in Hawaii:

Two weeks after I joined this infantry outfit, I got my medical training. When I talked to the first sergeant in this company, out at the Dole pineapple plantation, I said, “When do I get my training? I was told I was going to get training. I don’t know a darn thing about medicine.”

He said, “Oh, you’ll get it. It starts tomorrow.” He said, “After breakfast tomorrow, you report back to your tent.”

They were wood frameworks, but tent top. And he said, “I’ll have another guy go with you. He’s going to take medical training, too.” So they came and got us the next morning, and we went back to our tents.

The guy said, “Now, you straddle this cot, the Army cot that you’re on. And you face him this way, like you’re sitting and looking at each other. Here’s a needle and a syringe. Now, you stick him in the arm till you can learn to hit the veins. Because you can go right through a vein, you know, if you don’t hit it proper. Then you have to pull it back out and try it again, until you get it.”

And I said, “This is the first training we’re getting?”

“Yeah.”

And the other guy didn’t know any more about it than I did.

The transition from Issaquah schoolboy to boot camp to the Pacific theater marked a titanic shift for Rob Pickering:

Totally different world. None of us, getting out of this little podunk school of Issaquah in ’41, when they bombed Pearl Harbor, none of us even knew where it was. They said it was in the Hawaiian Islands. I said, “Where in the hell is that?” We didn’t know where the Hawaiian Islands were.

And so going from this farm, where I was born and raised and worked all my life, and my father is the only one that had talked to me and all this stuff — and my mother — and I find myself in boot camp, along with thousands of other guys. It was like a nightmare. Total nightmare!

In the Pacific, Pickering sent letters home to Issaquah, after military censors parsed the mail for potential secrets:

Oh, I wrote home. Writing letters back then was not like writing letters today. You had them little V-mail things. Little things. And you couldn’t write on the back side. You could only write on the front.

And they said, “Don’t say anything about where you are, what the weather is, how many people are in your command, what you’re doing.”

And I was thinking, what the hell am I going to write about? Because every letter was censored. A group of guys would sit at a table with a pair of scissors — that’s why you didn’t write on the back side — and they cut it up!

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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