I just ordered my proof copy of “Death By Darwin”. Soon, you will be able to get your hands on my next book. By December 15th, the ebook will be available and hopefully, the printed version. More on that soon.
But, today, I want to focus on what took place on this day 75 years ago. Yes, December 7 1941 is a day that will live in “infamy”. In 2005 our drama group at Brookwood Baptist Church performed my last written play, “The Homecoming Tree”. The play was set in the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas 1941. I based the story on my parents’ experiences living in Shreveport, Louisiana during World War II. The play has a very special place in my heart and I have rewritten it over the past 11 years. I am now working on the conversion of the play to a novel.
My hopes are to see the play performed again in its new form and also to possibly add musical numbers to the play. But, for now, I am settling for finishing up the novel. Today, in the honor of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the brave men and women who died that day and the Generation that took upon themselves to defeat the greatest evil in modern history I want to post an excerpt from my upcoming book, “The Homecoming Tree”.
Stop for a moment. Be very still. Shut out the sights and sounds of the world around you. Are you there? Now, recall where you were when the planes hit the World Trade Center. How did you feel? Afraid? Shocked?
Almost thirty years ago, I remember my wife screaming for me to come out of the bathroom to the living room. “They’ve blown it all up!” she said. I watched in horror as that bifurcated plume of rocket exhaust proved the Challenger space shuttle had exploded shortly after take off with a school teacher on board.
Some of us can recall an even more shocking moment. I confess that I was but a small child, but talk to anyone over the age of 65 and they can tell you exactly what they were doing and where they were the moment President John F. Kennedy was shot. Fifty years have passed and still the grim and horrifying jerky images of the Zapruder film signaled an end to Camelot; an end to America at its greatest.
But, sadly, there are fewer and fewer Americans alive today who recall when they heard the news that Pearl Harbor had been attacked on December 7, 1941. My parents lived through the Great Depression and moved to a large city from a failing farm in the early 1940’s. They are both passed on now, but their stories of the fear and dread they felt when they learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor eclipsed any fear I have experienced since then.
Today, now 72 years later, our memories of that attack have faded and have suffered from the reconstruction of history. Japan is no longer our enemy. Hawaii is no longer a territory and has become the default tourist destination for many Americans. It is difficult for us to fathom the enormity of the defeat of the American fleet on that day. In our day of drones and laser tagged missile attacks and cyber warfare, this kind of attack is unthinkable.
So, pause for a moment and remember the men and women who died that day in a sudden, underserved attack by the Empire of Japan. Stop and recall whatever tiny bit of shock and awe you may have felt in the past few years at other attacks on our country. Be still and say a prayer for our country; say a word of thanks for the men and women who daily put their lives on the line for our freedom.
You see we are free. Freedom and liberty have driven the metamorphosis of our country into what it has become today. Most of those men and women who died that day in Pearl Harbor would not recognize modern America. It would be more foreign to them than any of the enemy countries they fought to defeat. But, there is no dispute in the fact that they would lay down those lives again if it meant protecting the freedom and liberty that has allowed us to grow into the country we are today, good or bad. Let us not take that liberty for granted. For, tomorrow, there could very well be an attack on our country more heinous and more devastating than Pearl Harbor. The question we must ask ourselves:
Do we have what it takes to face such a challenge as did those who fought the Great War against a world filled with evil and death? Let us hope that we do not forget these lessons of history. As Ravi Zacharias once said, “the only thing worse than nostalgia is amnesia.”
To the World War II veterans who have gone on to their reward and to the veterans who still live with those bitter memories, we salute you. Thank you for fighting and dying for our liberty. May we NEVER forget!
Four elderly men stood before me. They had asked to talk to me and I was very, very nervous. One of them was shaking with emotion and all I could think of was somehow I had offended them with something I had written in the play they had just seen.
Let me explain.
In 1993, I was the director of the drama ministry at Brookwood Baptist Church. We produced four dinner theaters a year and my staff liaison requested we sell season tickets for the 1994 season. I was growing tired of writing, directing, and producing plays with a rural flair. I wanted something more modern and urban. I decided on the three plays leading up to our holiday dinner theater for 1994. Then, I wrote down a simple explanation for the fourth play, “The Night Gift”. It would take place in an urban setting, a newly constructed high rise in downtown with a penthouse office. The members of that office would find themselves stuck in the penthouse office on Christmas Eve and in the process discover they didn’t get along as well as they thought. That was it. A simple story. I would worry about the details later and write the play sometime during the summer of 1994 in time for the holiday dinner theater.
My good friend and our best actor, Larry Robison, asked me to write him a bit part as an old curmudgeonly gentlemen like Waldorf and Statler of the Muppets. You know, the two old men who sit in the theater box seats and insult the cast of the Muppets show. I created four elderly founders of the company that built the high rise. Larry would play Mr. Collinbird (the others were Mrs. Partridge, Mrs. Turtledove, and Mr. Frenchhen). At a pivotal point in the play, I wanted to change the mood from humorous to serious. Up to that moment, Mr. Collinbird had been hilarious and frankly, senile. The members of the office began to share their most memorable Christmases. When it came to Mr. Collinbird, everyone was expecting another silly story. Instead, he began to tell a very moving story about his childhood.
Mr. Collinbird told the story of Christmas,1941 when his father did not return from Pearl Harbor. The young boy went out into the woods and cut down the family Christmas tree on his own. During the tale, Larry became the young Collinbird and I came out on the stage dressed as his father with blood on my chest. I told my “son” he was now the man of the house and I would not be coming home for Christmas.
It was a simple five minute scene meant to change the tone of the play and to catch the audience off guard. They would be expecting Collinbird to be silly but instead they got a very poignant moving story of the child who became the man. After the first night’s play, Larry came up to me and said there were four men who wanted to talk to the author of the play. These were the four men who now stood before me. The trembling man wiped at his eyes and this is what he said:
“I wanted to thank you for honoring the men who fought in World War II. We are World War II veterans and I was at Pearl Harbor. Thank you for honoring us on Veteran’s Day.”
I was stunned! It suddenly hit me that this was Friday, November 11th, the original date for Veteran’s Day! I never intended to honor WWII veterans but God had different plans. God knew who would be there that night and God knew they needed to be honored by the simple scene in this play. The play was performed for two nights only and as impressive and shocking as the first night’s response was, I was not prepared for what happened the second night.
After the play, Larry escorted an elderly woman up to me and introduced us. She also wanted to meet the author of the play. This is what she said:
“My brother died at Pearl Harbor and I have been mad at him and mad at God ever since. Tonight, you helped me to say goodbye to my brother and to find peace with my Maker. Thank you!”
Later, Larry and I spoke about these people and their testimonies. Larry encouraged me to write the story of that young boy in 1941. He asked me where the idea of cutting down the tree as a rite of passage to manhood had come from. I shall share that tomorrow! For now, I want you to stop for a moment and think of someone you know who has fought in our military.
This coming Monday is Veteran’s day and 19 years ago, I realized how truly important it is to honor and remember the sacrifice of our men and women in the armed forces. Much has happened in the world since then and the number of war veterans has exploded. It would be a number of years before I fulfilled my dream to take that boy’s story and tell it in its entirety. In 2005, I wrote and produced “The Homecoming Tree” telling the story of the young Mr. Collinbird. The story was based on my parents’ lives during WWII. They lived in a boarding house atmosphere and their relatives came to stay with them as the war unfolded. I hope to soon complete the novel based on that play and to fully honor the memories of my now deceased parents. But, for now, I want to encourage you to honor our veterans this coming Monday. Thank them for their sacrifice to give us the opportunity to live in freedom!
My father walked through the darkness of the railroad yard. This was not the world he had wanted to live in. But, his farm was a bust and my mother had convinced him it was time to leave the country and move to the city of Shreveport and find a job. They had two children to raise; four mouths to feed and the Depression had been devastating on the farm.
My father came to the city and they moved into a house on Buckner Street along with other relatives. Life was hard but at least working for the railroad, my father had a steady paycheck. The one drawback was the hours: he had the graveyard shift. Now, he walked through the darkness toward the bus ride back into the city and to home. The railroad yard was filled with hulking, sometimes rusting railroad cars crouched on their tracks. This land was alien to my father; nothing at all like the rolling hills of Saline, Louisiana with its fertile soil and towering pines. His heart raced with anxiety as he stumbled over the tracks and dodged around the railroad cars. And then, the ground opened up beneath him and he was falling through darkness into shadow. He hit the ground and rolled and found himself in one of the maintenance pits over which railroad cars were driven to work on their undersides. He realized if he had hit his head or broken an leg, he might have stayed there until he died. He climbed painfully out of the pit of darkness and despair and resolved to find a better job.
My uncle Marvin was a unique individual. He was tall and round with a cherubic face and a quick wit. When he would call the house I would say, “Hello?” and he would answer “Is that you?” I was always confused around him. But, he worked for the Post Office and the next day spoke to my father about filling a position at the Post Office. Normal hours. No pits to fall in. Paper cuts galore, but my father could deal with that. He took the job much to my mother’s relief. They were NOT going back to the farm.
1941 came quickly and Thanksgiving was a time for true thanks. My father, mother, sister, and brother had a home; food on the table; and my father had a job he could more than tolerate. My father still longed for the farm but my mother was unrelenting. Over the past few months, sisters and brothers had come through the house on Buckner Street for brief stents as they found jobs in Shreveport. The world was changing. War occupied most of Europe and the country folk were being drawn into the war to end all wars. Fresh faced young men whose life was walking behind a plow and a mule were faced with the prospect of going across the ocean to a world they could not begin to imagine. Shreveport, a growing city in northwestern Louisiana was foreign enough.
And then, December 7, 1941 came. My father and Mother learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor after church. They were terrified. The United States was now officially in the war. What would become of our country? What would become of the uncles who were even now being drafted into the armed forces? What would happen to my father? He was twenty seven when the war broke out. But, because he worked for the federal government at the Post Office, he was not on the first list of draftees. Most men didn’t have to be drafted. They volunteered. The attack on the United States was horrific and these men, fresh from the farm, wanted revenge.
In June 1942, shortly after my father turned twenty eight, he was drafted. He was thirty days away from being sent off to Europe. He had thirty days to get his affairs in order; to insure my mother and brother and sister would be okay while he was overseas. At the last minute, with only two days left until he was deployed, the Unites States government lowered the age of draftees to twenty six. My father didn’t have to go and stayed with the Post Office. My uncles were lucky. they survived events like the Battle of the Bulge and came back to the country after the war. But, my father tells me the world changed forever on December 7th. It changed for my family and it changed for my nation.
Six years ago, I immortalized my parents’ story in the play, “The Homecoming Tree”. It was performed three consecutive nights at Brookwood Baptist Church in November, 1995. It is the story of that house on Buckner Street and the men, women, and children who lived there at the beginning of World War II. It tells the story of a young boy, age 13 and his coming of age when he realizes his father may not come home from Pearl Harbor and he has to become “the man of the house”. This coming of age is represented by the boy cutting down the family Christmas tree by himself.
In writing, producing, and directing this play, I was able to honor my father and his extended family and the sacrifice of their incredible generation for our personal freedom. We no longer know what it means to be “the man of the house”. Most men today abandon their families to find their personal identity; to discover themselves often in the arms of a younger woman or in the throes of drugs and alcohol. Most families do not resemble the nuclear family of the forties. And, it is certain, that most households have no idea of God and country; of self sacrifice and dying for what you believe in. Truth is, most of us now believe in ourselves and therefore we are dying for ourselves with overindulgence, personal selfishness, lack of manners, rampant consumerism, and would never consider sacrificing our lives for a principle or a value. The exception are those valiant men and women who still understand the necessity of defending the freedom this country still represents, albeit weakly, to a world that no longer regards the United States as a great country.
On this day, the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I want to ask everyone to revisit that event; to talk to a veteran; to examine the cost of their ability to sit in front of a computer and have total, unfettered access to a world of information — true freedom. Freedom is NOT free. It cost thousands their lives on this day seventy years ago. And we must take up the torch of self sacrifice and keep the fire burning if for no other reason than to honor them. Honor a member of our armed forces today. Stop, shake their hand and look them in the eye and say, “Thank You.” There is no better way to remember Pearl Harbor!