TODAY’S THE DAY when, 75 years ago, my in-laws Don and Anne Lusk gave thanks for the end of World War II.
They’ve left this world, but I’ve come to know them through the daily letters Don wrote to his sweetheart, then fiancée, then bride during the hardest times.
I’ve thought of them every day since the pandemic began. The Lusks were examples of sacrifice and stamina, things that can serve us right now.
Last week I listened to Dr. Tom Locke talk about both. We’ve got to keep up our stamina, he told the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners. We’re deep into — maybe not even at the halfway point — of a public health emergency, and we have to stay strong.
Locke, Jefferson County’s public health officer and Jimmy Stewart-esque voice of reason, acknowledged that people are making sacrifices: forgoing time with loved ones, staying home instead of gallivanting as we would any other summer. We’re doing this to help keep our neighbors healthy. It’s working, and we’ve got to keep going.
During much of the war, Anne and Don were married but living apart: She in Michigan, working at Percy Jones Hospital where severely wounded men convalesced, Don in training at various Army bases and then sent into battle in sodden France and Luxembourg.
They met as college students at an ice-skating rink in February 1942, soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Don enlisted a few months later, and received his orders on New Year’s Eve.
1943 saw the 20-year-old crisscrossing the country.
The Army sent him to this base and that. He rode troop trains for days, with no control over where he’d go next. A brief furlough in June allowed time for his marriage to Anne, a simple ceremony with a handful of family members at his parents’ home.
Then came summer 1944, when he “went over.” So many men were killed or wounded during and after the D-Day invasion that soldiers like Don, initially schooled for non-combat jobs, found themselves up front. He was made a rifleman in the 26th Infantry Division, and in November he headed for France’s Lorraine, to confront the Nazi army.
Don continued writing to Anne, never griping about the conditions — relentless rain, cold, mud and death — instead reminding her of his love.
“My dearest darling,” Don wrote. “I am thinking of you now more than ever.”
He made it out, to go to a rest camp in Metz. After only a week, his division was sent to fight in what would be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Amid deepening snow, the men dug foxholes in the Ardennes forest of Luxembourg; an Army supply-chain breakdown had left them without winter gloves and boots. Don and his division spent Christmas 1944 freezing, exposed to the elements with no end in sight.
Still he wrote to Anne, not about the horror around him, but about when they would see each other again. Still the U.S. Postal Service got those letters to her.
Shortly before the dawn of the new year, Don was evacuated, his feet frozen and gangrenous. He spent months in a hospital near Liverpool, recovering from amputation of his toes.
Don got home to Anne in March 1945. From day forward, he never spoke of that brutal winter. He and Anne, their children in tow, eventually moved to Florida, where Don was an engineer in NASA’s Apollo program.
What does this have to do with the pandemic of 2020?
Sacrifice teaches us what’s important. Stamina, when we reach down for it, carries us forward to the other side. On that other side waits the sweet essence of life: love.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.
Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Sept 16.
Reach her at [email protected]