by Frances Edstrom
It's one of life's bittersweet mysteries that so many of us, myself included, owe our very existence to the circumstances of war. My parents "” John Bowler of Ayer, Massachusetts, and Margaret Muraine, born in LeMars, Iowa, "” were both serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II when they met in Washington, D.C.
Like many love stories of those times, theirs was a condensed one. They met in January and married in March, while John was temporarily on U.S. soil. Margaret continued in her job in Washington, D.C., working for an admiral on top secret stuff that she took to her grave. John rode the waves in northern waters around the Aleutians and Greenland, until he somehow ended up in Tangiers just before coming home to begin life after the war.
For Margaret, WWII was a ticket out of Superior, Wisconsin, where she had landed after college, and where there was a boyfriend whose idea of a heavy date was going to the dump to shoot rats. (I never told her John took me on such an outing once here in Winona, and I thought it was kind of exciting.) For her, stationed in D.C., life during the war was glamorous and exciting, even immersed in danger and sadness as it necessarily was. After her death we found a cache of love letters, almost all from John Bowler, but a couple from other admirers, whose writing skills were too good to simply relegate to the trash, apparently.
For John, WWII was a duty, a largely unpleasant one of cold, rough seas that took him away from a life of teaching and playing baseball in small-town New England. Past prime age for the service, he enlisted in the Coast Guard, which then came under the control of the U.S. Navy. He was not in the habit of speaking of his years in the Navy, though he took pride in serving his country.
Two of his brothers also served in the Navy, Robert a submariner and Thomas, one of the lucky few who made it off the Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Both brothers found their brides during WWII as well. A very crowded "kids' table" at Thanksgiving dinners during peacetime resulted.
My father and I (my mother wouldn't go) drove my brother Jay into Boston to be shipped to Camp Lejeune for his basic training and from there to Vietnam. He did not meet his intended while in the service, and in fact tells a story of approaching a young woman during a stateside visit in a friendly manner only to be called a "baby killer."
We are fortunate that even though no one wants war, or to send loved ones into battle, there have always been those who put the good of the many before their own comfort, convenience, or life itself.
Tomorrow we honor all of our veterans, family and strangers alike, and thank them for their service to the rest of us and to the future of freedom and democracy.