Each generation has benchmark events and experiences that are complicated, filled with emotion and call for public commemoration. The date of the occurrence becomes emblematic, a kind of shorthand for the stunning and wide-reaching experience.
Characteristically, the observance includes each person’s narrative of the tale of “where I was on that day.”
Most of the contemporary generation observe the 11th of September as the date of the terrorist attack on the towers of the World Trade Center. I was at home, finishing a cup of coffee before departing for my office at Aurora University. I called a colleague who refused to believe me until urged to check out the television news. Later, rather than cancel class, we all gathered and together tried to build a common reality.
On the 22nd of November in 1963, I was at the University of Wisconsin, waiting in my fourth floor walk-up office for a student who was late for an appointment. She brought the news of the assassination of President Kennedy. I expressed my disbelief yet when we both looked out the window the panorama of grief that had stilled the rush of a busy Friday ratified the message.
Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, has, as President Franklin Roosevelt pronounced, lived “in infamy.” As a 3 year old, only because of family documentation, I know that we were all seated at Sunday dinner as the news came on the radio.
Later wartime images emerge, such as Grandpa Arteberry in his victory garden or dressed as an air raid warden going to check out compliance with blackout regulations; Dad and his colleagues working double shifts at the defense plant; and the service stars and sadly the gold stars in the windows. At the Arcada Theatre there were propaganda posters in the lobby that persuasively and urgently told us that, “Loose lips sink ships!” My lips were sealed, for sure.
Everyone cheered something called “D-Day.” I have a treasured archive of original newspaper accounts of World War II, which always included the maps that amplified the worldwide dimensions of these battlefronts. Finally, on “VJ Day” and in the awesomeness of a powerful secret weapon and the stunning consequences – an outstanding memory for me was when Grandpa Sharkin locked the door of his tavern, loaded his Studebaker pickup truck with “supplies” and opened the basement of our house to a marathon two-day party.
Although never officially invited, I missed the second day of the party to go with my dad as he drove a sailor, Tony Zudis, back to Great Lakes, using ration coupons for gas and keeping fingers crossed that the worn out tires would be sustained.
Now comes Dec. 7 again this weekend. The combined veterans of VFW Post 5036 and American Legion Post 342 and AmVets Post 503 will hold the annual Pearl Harbor Day dinner at St. Charles Place Steakhouse at 6 p.m. The $45 dinner is open to the public (reservations required; call 630-800-5832). The featured speaker is Maj. Gen. Walter Holmes who, with his Canadian Army cohorts, landed in Normandy on D-Day.
• Joan Arteberry is a longtime resident of St. Charles. Her columns are featured in the Kane County Chronicle’s Neighbors section every other Friday. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.