It saddened me to see people waving the flag of another nation during a demonstration the other day. And it did something else, it took me back to a quiet Easter Sunday in 1942.
I remember the day well. I don't remember many days in 1942, but I remember that one because it has had a special meaning for me over the years, a meaning that rings as true today as it did then.
It was a beautiful sunny day in early April, and all along our street young people sat in twos and threes on front porches, the boys dressed, as was customary in those days on Easter Sunday, in white pants, white shirts, and dark ties, and the girls in white dresses showing a stray bit of colored ribbon here or there.
On the steps of our front porch sat my older brother Frankie, his best friend Herbie Haines from two houses down the street, and blond-haired Roy Osterberg, who had biked down from the end of the street and leaned his bike against the pickets of our front fence.
That bike was to become famous later on as the one that decked me while I was running from first base to second base playing three-a-cat on Pike Street.
They carried me home out cold, but that's another story.
Missing that Easter Sunday were my oldest brother Billy, Lloyd Haines, Herbie's older brother, and Pete Dissaro from next door. They were gone off to war, Billy and Lloyd in the Army, and Pete Dissaro in the Marines.
As I passed Frankie on my way over to the porch next door he frowned at me and said,"Don't get your pants dirty."
Frankie was 18. I was 10. Daddy died when I was five and Billy and Frankie more or less took turns filling in for him. Billy was gone off to war now, so Frankie had to do the job all by himself. I don't think he cared for it very much.
"Okay," I told him, though I knew it was impossible to keep white pants white and I'd get yelled at later.
Bobby Haines and Dom Dissaro were already there when I got to the Dissaro porch next door. Benny and Muzzie Battigia showed up a few minutes later. We sat there doing what young males do when they're dressed in good clothes and can't do much else. We talked, we laughed, and we watched a pair of girls sitting on the curb playing jacks. Mostly though, we sat wishing we could go get changed and do something else.
Why am I telling you about a quiet Easter Sunday in 1942? Is it because of something special that happened on those two front porches? No, it is because of something special that didn't happen on those two front porches.
An all-out struggle for the future of the world raged across the sea in Europe and out in the Pacific. Germany, Italy, and Japan were ruled by men who believed that their people, their history, their cultures were so superior that they had the right to shoulder aside all other peoples, taking control of the entire world and eradicating anyone who got in their way.
On that quiet Easter Sunday, sitting on those two front porches, were two young men of German descent, two of English descent, one of Norwegian descent and, three of Italian descent--one of them actually named after Benito Mussolini, Dictator of Italy.
Missing, were one young man of German descent, one of English descent, and one of Italian descent who were gone off to war. By the time the war ended, three more of the young men on those two porches would wear the uniform of their country, as would another 10 or 11 young men from our block.
I don't know what happened to all of those young men. I know that one of them returned without an arm, and one without a leg, and two of them never returned at all.
Why? Why did those young men from so many different cultures and nationalities choose to fight for America?
Because, you see, we were not German-Americans, or Italian-Americans, or English or Norwegian Americans. When we looked at each other that warm Easter Sunday all we saw were Americans, just plain Americans.
Well, maybe not so plain....
And, when we waved a flag it had stars and stripes on it.