Some people sing in the shower. My mother sang in the car. As a young girl I rode shotgun on my mother's egg route (just like a milk route, but with eggs) twice a week. She would carefully pack dozens of extra large, large and medium eggs into the back seat of our Olds 88 and take off from our ranch in Lomita to the homes of customers in San Pedro and the South Bay area.
She would sing while she drove, and her voice, as I remember it, was perfect. Her repertoire included "I'll Be Seeing You," "I'll Walk Alone," "As Time Goes By," "Sentimental Journey," "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition," and a few others.
I learned all those tunes and more before I started school.
Sunday evening, I began watching the epic documentary about World War II by Ken Burns on PBS. If someone had asked me a week ago, I would have said I knew a lot about World War II from books, history classes and from living in Hawaii for seven years. From my home in Aiea, I overlooked Pearl Harbor and I paid my respects at the Arizona Memorial in person several times.
But after listening to the commentary told by people who were there and seeing video and photos of various battlefields from the Philippines to North Africa to Italy and Russia, I realized that I've never truly comprehended the magnitude of the war that ended five years before I was born.
One thing I knew about the war first hand was my father's tragic story about his first wife. In 1943 Yugoslavia, his wife Anna was dragged from her home in front of her two children and thrown into the sidecar of a motorcycle by Nazi soldiers. After the war, her remains were found on a hillside near the small fishing village where she and my father had lived.
Anna was a seamstress who had joined the Partisan's fight against the Nazis and the Fascists. She sewed messages into clothing and passed the clothing on to others in the underground. Someone must have turned her in, and at the age of 30 she became a casualty of the war.
As I watched the history revealed in the Ken Burns film, I thought of Anna, just one uncelebrated victim in a sea of martyrs. Brave soldiers and innocent civilians perished side-by-side, not by the dozens, but by the hundreds, sometimes more than a thousand in a single day.
One of the survivors of World War II who was interviewed in the film spoke of a dying buddy who, in the darkness, near the end, called for his mother. How soothing a mother's voice, a mother's song could be.
There are memorials and monuments, medals of honor, ribbons of distinction and countless white crosses in cemeteries around the world that honor soldiers, sailors and Marines, as well as activists like Anna and innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.
The songs my mother sang when I was a little girl were songs that came from the war. Now I better understand the sentiment behind those songs, and the circumstances that inspired them.
To those lost then and to those who managed to survive, and to all those since who have answered the call to stand up for freedom, thank you. I wish I could give you comfort, the gift of my mother's songs.