Susan Vaughan here. Memorial Day always prompts memories of my father, who was a spotter pilot in World War II. He came out of it safely and made it to the age of eighty-one. I’ve always known the holiday was once called Decoration Day, but never knew much of the history. My research tells me that the ancient Greeks and Romans honored those who died in battle.
In the United States, the tradition of honoring fallen soldiers began after the Civil War. Ending in the spring of 1865, the War Between the States claimed more lives than any other conflict in U.S. history, more than 620,000.
That great loss resulted in the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. Americans in towns and cities began holding springtime tributes to their fallen soldiers with flowers and prayers. One of the earliest recorded commemorations was organized by recently freed slaves in May of 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina.
In 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of the Union veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic, called for a nationwide day of remembrance on May 30, a day he called Decoration Day. By 1890, every northern state had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. When the United States fought in World War I, the holiday evolved as a national day to honor American military personnel who died in all wars. Later the name changed to Memorial Day, and in 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, the last Monday in May became the official federal holiday. Today cities and towns across the country host Memorial Day parades, often involving veterans and military personnel. After visiting cemeteries and memorials, many people enjoy barbecues and picnics, perhaps because Memorial Day is also the unofficial beginning of summer.
Since I can’t put flowers on Dad’s grave because it’s far away in West Virginia, I’m remembering him here. As I said at the beginning, then Lieutenant Arthur N. Hofstetter was a spotter pilot in WWII. This picture was taken before he left the States for Europe after the D-Day landing in France.
He flew a Piper Cub airplane, sneaking across France and into Germany to spot German trains for the U.S. artillery. He radioed back the coordinates and beat it out of there before the bombs flew. Extremely hazardous duty that required agile flying and stealth on occasion. Weapons? A pistol, and what kind is lost to my memory, if I ever knew.
His plane was probably a Piper L-4, a lightweight two-seat, single-wing plane. They were manufactured by the thousands for military uses, particularly reconnaissance.
On one occasion, two “enemy” planes tried to shoot him down. He escaped by zipping under bridges and power lines until they gave up. Enemy in quotes because according to Dad, his attackers weren’t German planes, but Soviet. Dad suspected these two pilots just wanted to play with this new little American plane. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross for his valiant efforts, but his citation refers to “enemy fire” only because the Russians were supposed to be on our side.
After the war ended, Mother and I joined him in Occupied Germany, where we lived with a farm family for a couple of years near Regensburg. I remember little about that time because I was only two or three, but I wonder now how that family felt about having us Americans in their home. I do know that Dad held nothing against them, but due to his medal-winning flight for his life, he hated Russia.
I’d appreciate it if anyone would care to share your personal remembrances too.