Monday, May 25, 2009

Finally, I Honored Others on Memorial Day

For over thirty years on Memorial Day I've closed out the school year by completing final paperwork. After I retired I celebrated by attending quiet parties. or I shopped, unmindful of the significance of the day.

Last Monday my sister and I attended the services for the Royal Dutch Flyers who had trained in Jackson, MS during WWII. We both realized minor parts our parents played in that long ago time and it was somehow necessary that we attend one service in our lifetime. We are aging just as many vets are. Loyalty to their comrades brings most vets to any memorial service. Ours was delayed respect.

Mother worked as one of several PBX operators--you've seen them in old photos or in early movies sitting at a board plugging and unplugging wires to connect phones--and Daddy repaired all the telegraph/teletype machines at the base. In those days airbase workers couldn't reveal much about their work or what they saw at the base.

The activity at the Jackson Air Base of 1941-47 was the reason we saw so many airmen in town. A number of American squadrons came and went at different periods of time. In May 1942 the base was designated as the Army Air Force Specialized Flying School and would be open to the Netherlands East Indies Air Force to train here. One story is that the Dutch base in the East Indies had been taken over by the Japanese and training had to be conducted somewhere else. The Jackson base was selected by the Dutch Air Force for basic and advanced training while Fort Levenworth in KS would conduct primary training.

Today one veteran from the Viet Nam War told us he'd heard stories of these young men, many in their late teens, who were daredevils, flying loops under telephone and utility lines, flying low over buildings and homes--any scary tactic imaginable. I faintly remember one occasion looking upward and hearing that same remark from the few around me as a light plane flew just above our heads. Many died during their training or on flights across the U. S. The war activity prevented the transfer of bodies in the United States back to Holland, so the remains were sent back to Jackson, Ms where a plot of land in the city's cemetery was designated for the Dutch Airmen. For over 60 years a service has been held in honor of these young men and their commandants.

Over the years a member of the Royal Dutch Family came to lay the wreath at the base of the monument.Other times a special guest did the honors. This year veterans of four conflicts lay the wreath while 100 persons, mostly vets and their families, watched.

A few years ago one of the oldest men in the Dutch Air Force was laid to rest alongside his comrades, last year his wife's remains were buried next to him. This year, an airman whose remains were in a Florida cemetery were transferred to be laid to rest with his squadron. In the rear of the cemetery known as Cedarlawn lie 36 airmen, two children, and one wife in a quiet area unknown to most of the traffic passing daily.

The 9:30 a.m. day began cloudy with the sun peeping until it found a wide gap in the clouds. Within thirty minutes the humidity has risen and heat had replaced the few breezes we experienced earlier. Military honors with gun salute, fly over, a lot of speeches of reminiscence reminded us of the once presence of the Flying Dutchmen. May 4 is the Dutch celebration of Memorial Day. I'm sure they honor those buried in Mississippi.

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