Taking a step back in time is appropriate as Memorial Day approaches. The holiday, called Decoration Day, was established in the aftermath of the Civil War, and did not become an official national holiday until the 1960s.
Looking through the pages of history, we turn to a time when the outcome of World War II was in doubt. In the winter of 1943 local farmers were called to a meeting in the local high school to listen as speakers urged them to increase food production for the war effort.
The War Production Board — a newly minted federal agency — was behind the incentive. The food panel of the Dodge County War Price and Rationing Board also was involved. Its power included how much sugar, coffee and other items each family could receive.
Another meeting was held shortly thereafter that featured professional mechanics and Extension Service experts talking about improving skills to repair implements. Most, but not all farmers, had made the transition from harnesses and fly nets to tractors and larger equipment.
Women did their part by planting larger gardens, saving lard and tin cans, making blankets and, along with their spouses, purchasing war bonds.
The newspaper reported that the meetings were well attended. The paper also carried stories from the Pacific and the European theaters of war. The town was preparing a cigarette drive to help the war effort and kept people updated about volunteers who had started and completed basic training.
There were other stories to cover. Hollywood movie star Gene Autry would appear in January for two nights in the downtown theater to present the Western musical “Home in Wyomin'.’’ It was a coup for a town with fewer than 1,000 residents to attract such a famous talent. Chances are good he arrived via the train that ran on tracks on the outskirts of town.
The war, which would claim the lives of 6,300 Minnesota and 1,929 North Dakota service members, remained front and center in hearts and minds. Telegrams and visits by authorities delivered the horrible news. A local man lost his life in Saipan and was buried at sea.
Farmers and their families were indeed part of what is called the “Greatest Generation.’’
They reached adulthood in pre-World War I, cheered the Doughboys who boarded trains that eventually took them to European battlefields, and believed the conflict would lead to the end of all war.
There were other challenges to overcome. The forever prosperity that many economists and politicians promised ended with 1929’s stock market crash.
Fattened cattle and hogs were worth less than the cost of shipping, fruits and vegetables rotted in fields, and more than a few thought democracy itself was too inept to survive.
The financial collapse produced foreclosed on farms and homes, an unparalleled Dust Bowl, and a conviction that the United States should keep out of international affairs. Isolationism ended when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on a December morning.
Many in the general population did not know where the Hawaiian Islands were located before the nation mobilized. The same could be said before soldiers and sailors fought to stop communism in the rugged Korean hills and in South Vietnam’s jungles.
The Korean conflict, which claimed 36,000 American lives, is often called the country’s forgotten war. However, it is certainly not forgotten by the families whose members paid the fullest cost. Vietnam cost 60,000 more lives, and then there is Iraq and Afghanistan.
The promise that one day weapons of war would be transformed into plowshares has yet to be fulfilled, but hope remains.
Memorial Day is the time to remember one and all. It is out of appreciation that we visit cemeteries, listen to speeches, and let the meaning of it all sink into our souls like a refreshing summer breeze.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.