When I was a child, I wore my Girl Scout uniform and marched down Knapp Street in the Memorial Day parade. Like all children, I carried a small American flag. We gathered at the war monument by the Methodist Church in Livermore Falls and held a solemn memorial for all those Americans who had perished in wars.

Veterans from World War I marched in the parade and one elderly, almost skeletal, veteran from the Civil War, rode in the back of a convertible. There was a three-gun salute and the laying of flowers at the foot of the cannon. My dad, Louis P. Fornier, wore the uniform of the Livermore Falls band, which played military tunes along the parade route. I was very proud.

We then marched downhill to the bridge over the Androscoggin River, where lilacs were tossed into the water in remembrance of all those lost in sea battles. It was a solemn event with none of the trappings and rabid militarism that we see in today’s memorials.

My dad bought his first car, a secondhand Buick, in 1941. On the first Sunday in December, we drove to Farmington, where my dad backed into a post at a small filling station whose owner ran out and accused him of being drunk, which he was not. After paying the woman $1 for the post, we drove off.

On the way back home, we picked up a young woman wearing men’s clothing, which seemed strange to me. My dad had the radio on, and we heard an announcer say that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Being only 10, I didn’t understand what that meant, except that my parents were suddenly solemn so I knew that something terrible had happened. That night, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to a nation gathered around their radios.The second world war had begun for America.

Two years later, my brother Phil was faced with being drafted into the army. My parents, having grown up during WWI, no doubt were familiar with the horrors of trench warfare, so they allowed my brother, at the age of 17, to enlist in the Navy, where he would at least have a “clean bed.”

My brother, Maurice, did the same a year later. And then my dad, with his two sons already off to war, decided to join the Sea Bees as engineer and a chief petty officer.

There was no television in those days, but when we went to the Dreamland Theater on kids’ Saturdays, there was always a newscast, mostly dedicated to the war. We saw frightening images of war planes, sinking ships, fighting troops, refugees fleeing scenes of devastation. With our menfolk away at war, all of us were traumatized and fearful that we would never see them again.

We bid my dad a tearful farewell at Union Station in Portland, and then my mother had the car driven into the garage, where it would stay until the end of the war. She placed a flag with three stars on a living room window. I remember shoveling coal in the furnace in those bleak days with no man in the house.

We received occasional letters, shrunken in size, with the heading “Somewhere in England.” I would walk down our steep hill to the post office in hopes that there would be a letter, and run all the way back home if one had arrived.

My dad and brother Phil both ended up in the maw of the D-Day invasion — Phil on an LST on Omaha Beach and my dad in the engineering crew on Utah Beach.

The waters ran red with the blood of young U.S. troops as they were mowed down by the machine gun barrage from the German gun emplacements all along the Normandy coast.

Phil and my dad both survived and came home to joyous embraces, although Phil served an additional year on a mine sweeper on the English Channel. My brother, Maurice, stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea, was heading for the Pacific when the war ended.

I was in grade school when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I remember going to church to give thanks that the war had ended. I remember a woman who wore a black mantilla — her son had died in the war. So had our neighbor’s son, Frank, whose Army pension helped raise his mother out of poverty.

After the war, Dad joined the American Legion and became post commander, leading the local organization in an effort to combat serious forest fires in 1947. He soon was demoralized, however, when he realized that the Legion was glorifying war, something he knew that only those who hadn’t witnessed war would do. He resigned from the post, although he remained a proud American who flew the flag daily.

I have seen war and how my country has waged unrelenting war mostly on very small, terribly poor countries. I no longer wave my small flag. The war that my menfolk fought in was a human tragedy that cost the lives of hundreds of millions.

Today, the United States engages in wars all over the world and has become the world’s premier arms dealer. I wonder how my dad would feel today if he knew about Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Iraq, and all the many other countries that have been victims of U.S. aggression since World War II. I fear my country has lost its way.

Suzanne Fournier Hedrick, of Nobleboro, was on a Witness for Peace women’s delegation in 1987 to Nicaragua and the U.S.-backed Contra war. This trip to a war zone was her first trip abroad — at the age of 56.


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