On March 15th this year, my dad would have been 98 years old. John James Divine. He died in 1993, but lived a very full life in his 72 years. A recent visit with my brother-in-law brought out one of the lesser discussed stories about my dad’s life.
My dad grew up in the middle of the Great Depression. Eastern Oklahoma was poor enough without this financial disaster that was taking place across the USA. Oil and gas had not yet become the money maker that it would evolve into and land around there was often hilly and rocky, so farming and ranching was limited. My dad used to say that during those days you could buy land for 25 cents an acre, but nobody had a quarter!
The first two decades of my dad’s life were pretty typical for rural America in those days. Mornings found him up early doing farm chores, going to school, and coming home to more farm chores, with homework being done late into the night with two brothers and a sister sharing one dull light bulb.
Along came World War II. My dad was drafted into the Army Air Corps and was sent to Sheppard Air Force Base for basic training. Here’s where the little discussed story took place.
Dad said he showed up and was presented with a cot to sleep on in one of the barracks. It wasn’t private, but it was his own bed. No sharing it with his brothers! The next thing he received was a brand-new pair of boots. This was also a first for him. New. Not hand me downs! Then came the clothing. He had always worn his older brother’s old clothes. These were brand new and his. And they fit!
Next stop was the most impressive part of all to my father. He was taken to a building where there was enough food (you guessed it) to feed an army. He didn’t grow up hungry, but feasts were not on the menu in the 1920’s and 30’s for families like his. He said it was close to unbelievable to see so much food in one place. I’m sure many people of my generation and younger who are used to all you can eat buffets and super-sized meals will find this surprising, but the Great Depression was just like it was called: The Great Depression.
I must add that there was a price to be paid for all of my father’s newfound abundance. Being the tail gunner of a B-25 bomber and being shot at untold times a day while thousands of feet in the air probably brought forth countless prayers and lots of wishes to be back home doing farm chores. But there was a job to be done, and many young Americans took on that job. Dad told me one little detail about his job as a gunner in that bomber that chills me to this day. The gunners had a slogan that didn’t particularly paint a very pretty picture, or give you much incentive to go to work every day. That slogan was “Gunner today, goner tomorrow”.
But to work he did go. Just like millions of other soldiers, they paid a price that few of us can imagine, but we have been given a life of many freedoms, and I pray we never take it for granted.
Maybe you will give a little thought to my dad and all the other World War II veterans the next time you get a new pair of shoes or chow down on a double meat bacon burger. And hopefully, you will be able to do so without dodging bullets.