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.

About susanvaughan

Susan Vaughan loves writing romantic suspense because it throws the hero and heroine together under extraordinary circumstances and pits them against a clever villain. Her books have won the Golden Leaf, More Than Magic, and Write Touch Readers’ Award and been a finalist for the Booksellers’ Best and Daphne du Maurier awards. A former teacher, she’s a West Virginia native, but she and her husband have lived in the Mid-Coast area of Maine for many years. Her latest release is GENUINE FAKE, a stand-alone book in the Devlin Security Force series. Find her at www.susanvaughan.com or on Facebook as Susan H. Vaughan or on Twitter @SHVaughan.
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  1. Thank you for writing this piece honoring your father, Susan. His service (and heroism) is admirable. That he accomplished such critical tasks from the seat of such a small plane indicates the level of skill he possessed. Wow!

    I honored my father yesterday as well. He was in the Army infantry during WW2, fought in North Africa, Sicily and then Europe, where his unit in the First Division was one of the earliest to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Somehow he also came home intact to rejoin my Mom (with whom he’d eloped shortly before leaving for the war), had four children, started a business. The Silver Star he was awarded remains impressive, but that he was able to make a good life after seeing so much death and destruction has always seemed to me an even greater accomplishment.

    The same can be said for your father, I’m sure.

    Thank you.

  2. I’m Dutch so I do remember but from a different angle.
    Both my parents were young adults during WWII and in a way the war was always a presence in the background when we, their children grew up. We were not alone in that because, our hometown, near the German border.
    So boms, procecutions, forced labour, retaliation, shelling, living in the frontline for months, evacuation it left it’s marks.
    In the town itself, a lot could be restored, rebuild.
    But it the body and souls of people wounds often couldn’t be healed. The scars in body and soul were reminders the rest of their lives.

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