Editor’s note: This column originally ran on July 25, 1995.
Charles and Bea Baldridge think something’s been forgotten in all the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the end of World War II:
The soldiers who died.
“We were hoping for a recapping of World War II,” said Charles, who served as a B-24 engineer on 22 bombing missions in China.
“But the cost of the war has not been emphasized,” he said. “We’ve had pictures of people hanging on lightpoles, but the people in these cemeteries didn’t return.”
Charles, 72, and Bea, 70, live in Garden Valley. They have a marvelous view of the Payette River Canyon from the picture window of their double-wide mobile home. They could stay put and enjoy their retirement.
But to honor the 405,399 Americans killed in World War II, they decided to visit American cemeteries in Europe. They’ve been to 10, so far.
They videotape their visits, and earlier this month organized a World War II memorial at Mountain View Community Church in Boise.
Fields of dead
“You’re not prepared for what you see,” Charles said. “What can you say? What can you think?”
Bea said Americans traveling overseas should make a point of visiting the American dead.
“It was inspiring and very touching to walk among the graves,” she said. “It made us aware that there is a part of the United States in Europe.
“All of this is an acknowledgment of this country’s giving to overcome the fierceness and the darkness of the enemy,” she added. “It really impacts you when you see the costs. We should never forget it.”
The Baldridges object to exploitation of the war, particularly by politicians like Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.
Craig linked the war’s end to his 50th birthday party and a campaign fund-raiser Saturday. He is not a veteran.
“That got to me,” Bea said. “It is not authentic.”
Charles said Craig is like many politicians. “They try to capitalize on it. That’s why we find it offensive.”
Art Jackson, a Boisean awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, said he hasn’t forgotten his fallen colleagues, but fears many of us have.
“Charles feels there’s not enough emphasis on those who did not return,” Jackson said. “I agree.”
Jackson visits military cemeteries every chance he gets. “It’s just amazing how many crosses are there who are now forgotten. But for those of us who participated in the war and had good friends killed, it’s difficult to forget.”
Jackson was credited with killing 85 Japanese soldiers on a single afternoon at Peleliu Island. So awful are his memories that he turned down an invitation to return this year.
“I just didn’t have the heart,” Jackson said. “I made my peace with the good Lord about what happened. I just have no desire to go back.”
But Jackson may go to Bremerton, Wash., on Sept. 2 to attend the ceremony commemorating Victory Over Japan Day and the signing of the surrender on the battleship Missouri. He hopes the dead will be adequately remembered.
Clayton Campbell, a Boisean given the Silver Star for his part in the Doolittle Raid on Japan, also laments the lapse in our collective memory. “It’s more important to remember the ones that didn’t make it than those that did.”
Sometimes, we need people like Charles and Bea to jog our memories.