Remembering the Great World War II
I was ten years old when the greatest war of my life ended. The official date was September 2, 1945, but we first heard the news about two weeks before. I remember my mom and dad and a few close neighbors wanted to go celebrate the end of World War II in downtown Decatur, Illinois, my hometown. Red and Lil Fleming wanted my mom and dad to go downtown with them to see the big celebration that was taking place. One of my aunts watched the other kids, but Dad and Mom took me along because I was the oldest kid and had shown more interest in the war than the others. My twin sisters could have cared less about the war because they didn’t understand it. I think my Uncle Harley met us downtown near the square.
Red Fleming, our wonderful neighbor just across the street had served in the U.S. Army Cavalry and saw active service in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. He had been discharged and came home just a few weeks prior to the ending of the war. Red never told any us any stories about his war experiences, but we knew that he had been through hell over there. We knew he suffered some minor mental problems from what he had endured on the battlefield.
Red was a truly wonderful man in every respect. He had worked at Swift Ice Cream in Decatur prior to being drafted into the army, so when he was discharged, he went back to work for Swift again. He drove a truck that delivered ice cream to stores all over our part of the state. We loved Red because he brought a box of ice cream bars to the Meredith kids about once every week. We also loved his wife Lil and his dog Poochie. Red and Lil were childless, so they more or less adopted the Meredith clan, and we adopted them as our favorite neighbors. Poochie thought he was our dog a lot of the time because anytime one of us was outside, Poochie was there to play with us.
I remember we parked and walked two or three blocks to get to a spot where we could see the celebration festivities. We stood on North Main Street somewhere between Linn & Scruggs Department Store and the Lincoln Theater. People who lived in the apartments on the second and higher floors of some of the buildings were throwing paper confetti and making all kinds a racket with horns, firing shotguns, beating pans with spoons, and yelling. It was a wild and exciting time for a ten-year-old kid like me. A stage had been set up just across from the old Transfer House on the square and several people, I think including the Mayor of Decatur, gave speeches and made announcements that caused all the people to yell and cheer like crazy.
I think we stayed downtown for about two hours. I just remember I was really tired from trying to see through all the tall adults standing in front of me. There was a big parade with lots of military people walking down Water and Main Streets. There were also bands of all kinds and just a bunch of people following along singing songs. People were really happy the war was over and our soldiers, marines and sailors would all be coming home, except for the thousands and thousands who had been lost in battle.
On the way home, Red told me, “I brought something from the war back for you, Sonny. I’ll get it for you when we get back to the house.” I wondered what it could be, but as soon as we arrived back home, Red went in to his house and brought it over to me. It was a German soldier’s helmet that he had recovered in a fight somewhere in France. It was a black helmet with a big silver spike on the top of it. I treasured that helmet for many years, and sad to say now, I have no idea what ever happened to the helmet. My guess is that someone took it from our house. I hated that it disappeared.