Getting By in These Silent Nights

Together at last. Elliott and Jean Smith, 1945.

I have a nagging guilt in the back of my head every time I want to complain about trying to #ShelterinPlace.

I have to admit my first thought is not worrying about those who are immune comprised, though it’s never far from mind. I just feel caged and want out.

What stops me in my tracks is thoughts of World War II.

I was among the millions not too long along who celebrated the 75th anniversaries that led to the end of the war. My grandfather proudly served in the Army Air Corps and was based in southern England making bombing runs over Germany. I celebrated them as the Greatest Generation and liked to think that my generation could do the same if needed.

My grandfather was beyond a doubt the patriarch of our family. And he is/was beloved. In his 80s he would still play you in a game of pool, offer you a beer, or share stories of when we all went fishing together when we were young.

But he never talked about the war. At least nothing he endured. He told a few funny stories about the men with him on that B 24, but not combat.

It wasn’t until I heard a sliver of what it was like when he was in his 80s and he sometimes struggled to keep his mind in the here and now. I never will forget him staring off to space with his hand, index finger extended breezing by both sides of his head, one side after another.

“Zoom, zoom” was all he said, until I asked him if he was okay.

It took him a minute before he looked at me and said, “that’s how the bullets were coming at ya.”

It was the first and only time I heard anything about combat.

While he and his brother were serving in the war, his bride-to-be Jean Crockett and his sister, Ocie Smith, helped with towing for the small family business. They tucked their hair under a hat and did the best they could, acknowledging decades later they weren’t great.

And both never forgot being chewed out by a man once who didn’t like the way they tried to get his car out of a ditch. He stopped immediately when the women took off the hats, revealing the beautiful curly locks. Nothing more had to be said; it was clear they were just trying to help with the war effort.

Pearl Harbor was Dec. 7, 1941 and the Japanese didn’t surrender until Aug. 15, 1945. That is more than 3.5 years of sacrifices and worry. Families may not be able to go into the hospital, but they can get word. Can you imagine having to wait months sometimes for word?

Sports were halted in most cases (of course we did get the birth of women’s baseball) and they rationed. And they lost.

I would love to have people over for a cookout, walk around without a mask making my face sweat, go to a concert or go to see friends in other states. But I won’t. I want others protecting me like I am trying to protect them.

So next time you hear someone complaining about the challenges brought on by COVID-19, just mention World War II.

I don’t want history saying the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Greatest Generation couldn’t avoid a second wave because they couldn’t be bothered to wear masks or stay home.

And I will remind myself of the same anytime I start to complain.


This is a Christmas Card made in 1943 by one of the men who served on the B-24 would my grandfather. I can’t help but think how they prayed for silent nights.
The inside of the card signed by each member of the B -24 crew in 1943 with their positions in the plane.
Just a few of my grandfather’s personal items that survived from the war.
My son, David, displaying my grandfather’s WW II jacket. My sister, Tammy, had it restored to its look in 1945.