This article features an article written by E. D. McKenzie for the Plaistow News in 1968. A former long time resident of Plaistow, Ed is a veteran of World War II (where he was a German POW) and the Korean conflict. Copies of his book, “Boys at War, Men at Peace”, can be purchased at the PHS museum.
It’s already been fifty years, old buddy, since you came home from France, unwrapped your leggings, “stacked” your thirty-ot-six, hung up your gas mask; and tried to break the habit of seeking cooties under your waistband. That was the World War to End All Wars that took place a couple of decades before they began to number them with Roman numerals.
And you, younger guys and girls, stopped getting “V Mail” twenty three years ago, although it seems like yesterday when you were bathing in your steel helmet, prying the mud off your GI shoes and trying to make K Rations taste like Mom’s cooking.
Korean vets? Oh yes, you were eating some of those same K rations left over from the big one that ended a few years earlier, probably using much of the surplus military equipment that didn’t get sold as scrap after 1945, remembering that “Hamburger Hill” was not a place to go for a snack but a place where you could bloody well get yourself killed.
Meanwhile, back here at home: The forty nine men of WWI were honored by a monument out in the park, with names inscribed on stone. The two 105 mm cannon shells that once framed it are now long gone, who knows where? Maybe they weren’t such a good reminder after all. Artillery fire, muddy trenches and poison gas were some of their worst nightmares.
The wooden plaque inside town hall names one hundred and seventy who were scattered all over the world in regions strangely called “Theaters”, such as European, China-Burma-India, and so on. The woodlot out behind the Pollard School was designated as Veteran’s Memorial Park and was actually cleared and developed by many of the vets it was to commemorate but they liked that idea of a “living memorial” for future generations. As the town grew and students numbers increased the “memorial” became a site for building expansion and children’s playground.
There are one hundred and one names on the base of the statue of the Civil War soldier, and the two “field pieces” with two stacks of cannon balls became somewhat of a playground also, until the iron balls were welded together. That was to discourage their being rolled down the sidewalk aimed toward the flagpole. (Fortunately, all missed) Another war memorial, the pair of Hotchkiss machine guns as used by the Yanks in France stand there in front of the American Legion Post Home. They were intended in part to remind us of the “new weapon” the Germans used to decimate the advancing masses of troops as they came “over the top” out of their trenches and into “no man’s land”.
Right now there are many young people in their country’s service again, with more being called up each month to be sent once again to foreign soil. A few are saying things like, “Hell no. I won’t go!”; something unheard of in prior wars. Will there still be names inscribed on monuments after this or will that practice have ended? We try not to draw conclusions or moral philosophies from these observations, other than that we do not want to forget any of these people who came forward when called upon, all in which most historians agree were for “a good cause”.
Some may feel that Memorial Days are unneeded now, but we can’t help feeling that if it was us lying there under those U.S. flags and floral tributes on this day, then we would like the practice to continue.
By E. D. McKenzie