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May 8 is VE Day, a day some cried and some celebrated

May 6, 2011 at 12:06 a.m.
Updated May 7, 2011 at 12:07 a.m.


Eleven years ago, when I got the idea to do a column on VE Day (Victory in Europe), I didn't know how lucky I would get.

Some local veterans put me in touch with former Cpl. Earl Parker, a Shiner resident who, as a member of the Army's famous "Big Red One" 1st Division, and serving on Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's staff, was present in the little schoolhouse in Reims, France, where the surrender took place.

Nazi General Alfred Yodl, chief of the German Armed Forces High Command (Parker said he looked "tough and mean"), officially surrendered the depleted military machine of the Third Reich to the Allies on that pleasant spring day in the champagne country of France.

Yodl probably couldn't have guessed that he would be hanged less than a year-and-a-half later for war crimes.

As for Cpl. Parker, who still makes Shiner his home, he had mixed emotions about the end of World War II's European Theater.

As curious comrades looked on, Parker stood in the courtyard of that little schoolhouse and wept.

He shed tears because he was thinking about the people - military and, especially, civilian - who had died or lost loved ones or been left as homeless refugees in that most tragic of conflicts.

During our interview more than a half-century later, he still thought of them, and wept again.

Today, May 8, marks the 66th VE Day, and we should not - cannot - let its meaning be forgotten.

I have read a lot about that great war, and I've watched all the film footage I could find which was shot during the conflict.

So many people dead - 20 million, it is said - and so many lives ruined.

Images abound of uniformed men and women boarding trains or ships or planes and waving farewell to loved ones. And, many of them, tragically, were destined not to return.

I've always felt that people of my generation should teach the young about that terrible time, and by so doing hopefully keep it from happening again.

I sure tried to do that with my kids, and I hope that in some way they pass along the same lessons to theirs.

Today, as the sacrifices of our military men and women (and their families) mount in the smaller but bloody warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, they should serve as a reminder of that past war, and others, in which other generations fought and sometimes died to keep us safe and free.

We should all be aware of the warning signs right now in the Middle East, North Africa, North Korea, and elsewhere, the little fires that could become infernos.

The horror of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich was toppled, but at a terrible cost. And that is why Cpl. Earl Parker of Shiner wept in the midst of the celebration that followed that victory.

The tears were just as appropriate as the cheers that day - maybe more so.

That's also probably the reason famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who predicted the Allies would win, wrote earlier in 1945 that the victory was great, but the celebration should be tempered with somber recollection.

"The dead," he wrote, "would not want us to gloat."

Pyle left Europe before VE Day and traveled to the Pacific, where he joined the U.S. Marines fighting the Japanese on Iwo Jima.

Remembering the scenes of war he had witnessed back in England, he wrote, "Some day, when peace has returned to this odd world, I want to come to London again and stand on a certain balcony on a moonlit night and look down upon the peaceful silver curve of the Thames.."

But Ernie Pyle never saw London again, and didn't see VE Day or, later VJ (Victory over Japan) Day.

A Japanese machine gunner killed him on April 18, 1945, on a small island near Okinawa.

However, soldiers like Earl Parker still remember him, and all the others who paid the terrible price of that war.

And so must we.

Jim Bishop is a resident of Victoria and a former executive editor for the Victoria Advocate.

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