Significance Held in Dad's WWII Medals

Significance Held in Dad's WWII Medals

In these last days of the lives of the last generation to lay down their lives to prevent tyranny, I recently pulled out my late father’s medals. He was an Army guy. He volunteered in World War II and then was called to the South Pacific for the last two years of that war, and another year serving in the occupation of Japan. That occupation was spectacularly successful — implanting values of democracy, baseball and other positive things.

He received the Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster medal for serving in World War II, along with twenty or so other medals during his 20 years of service to this country. It is shape and size of a silver dollar but a little heavier, with a ribbon holding it and a pin on the back. I had looked at other things he had shown me. A set of captain’s bars with a chunk missing because of a sniper’s bullet. A bronze star, a purple heart, infantry badges that go back to the American Revolution, and a long rifle on a blue background to remind people of the blue our troops wore and the blue in the field of our flag.

The face of the medal has a goddess of Victory in the Greek style, with a broken sword in each hand (Germany and Japan) but nevertheless victorious Her right foot rests in a quiet triumph on a helmet that is unmistakably Nazi.

There is no banner of glory and no sense of boasting. What you feel is the enormous cost of victory, that’s why the swords are broken.

The ribbon is amazing — a broad stripe of red, the river of blood they literally shed to keep us free, is flanked on both sides by small stripes of blue and yellow and orange and purple, not a rainbow but like one, in a military style. All the races, colors and creeds. On the back of the medal, it says “United States of America” around the top and “1941-1945” across the bottom. The legend says FREEDOM FROM FEAR AND WANT and then, below an ear of wheat like on the old pennies, it says FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND RELIGION.

As I looked at it, I thought about how far we are now from days when our whole country and our allies in Europe, Australia and other places believed genuinely that our entire way of life was in imminent danger. Those of us who have, have so much, and are so afraid to lose any of it now, that the measure of sacrifice my father and those like him were prepared to give is really beyond our comprehension.

What I notice is that it does not say “Freedom of Religion and Speech.” Speech comes first, because it is about truth in general, and sharing ideas. Religion is someone’s version of the truth that you may or may not agree with but should never be compelled to accept. That is why the state must be separate from church and religion. It also puts first the two primary blocks on which stable and good societies rest — the ability to provide, for as many of its citizens as possible, freedom from fear and want.

Every year the gap between the top 5% of our population and the lowest 20% grows larger and larger. We are the richest society in the history of the world, and we are nowhere close to providing a just society in our own country, however much we dominate the rest of the world and live in a largely self-induced state of siege.

The contrast is vast between then and now, whatever the popular and promoted view of the state of our current peril from foreign threats.

He wasn’t the greatest dad, a pain in the neck and too much of the drill sergeant for an awkward kid like me. When he passed away ten years ago it was hard to cry, since that was part of what he taught me. But he did leave me this medal, among others, and it is just the greatest feeling to hold it and feel my eyes fill with long-postponed tears. I think about what we could stand for again if we would pay real attention to the message the medal has for us, in symbols and in words, and about the reality of war and its costs.

Mike Parish is an Alameda resident.