The Two-Star Window Banner

         It was December 1941.  Americans who normally anticipated the approach of the New Year with excitement and jubilation now did so with mixed emotions.  As the clock steadily ticked past the last few minutes of the year, we entered 1942 as a nation in its twenty-fifth day of war.  
         Americans went about their daily routines in an atmosphere of impending disruption.  In our household, the very idea of the United States being at war with Italy was especially disturbing to my parents: My father and mother had emigrated from Italy and were extremely saddened by such devastating news.  Also on their minds was the possibility of their two oldest boys going off to war, perhaps never to return.
        My oldest brother Bob, age seventeen, was looking forward to graduating high school in the spring.  The next in line was Angelo, a year and a half younger than Bob.
       The prospects of a compulsory draft hovered over many adolescents on the verge of adulthood who could reasonably anticipate being in uniform within a year.  To Bob and Angelo, the draft was not a problem.  Instead of waiting to be greeted by Uncle Sam, they had decided to enlist.     
       When Bob enlisted, the military immediately realized what they had.  As a young civilian, Bob specialized in auto mechanics and could fix anything.  His mechanical mind could troubleshoot any problem and, with a little tinkering, could set any engine humming again in good order.  To the military, Bob was a godsend and after having been given specialized training in aircraft mechanics, he was assigned to the Army Air Corps and eventually sent to a British air base where he kept the planes in battle-ready condition.
Angelo’s enlistment was somewhat different from that of his older brother.  Angelo was only seventeen years of age when he quit high school and tried to join the Marines.  Uncle Sam rejected his offer of enlistment because of his young age.  Born on the first of October 1925, Angelo had to wait until he reached the magic age of seventeen and a half before he was eligible.  In the mean time, with Bob away serving his country, Angelo was left at home pacing the floor like a caged tiger.  When April 1, 1943 finally arrived, he wasted no time: Six days later, he found himself at Parris Island, South Carolina, training alongside hundreds of other enlistees of the United States Marine Corp.
        On the home front, my family kept up with the latest developments on the war and learned about the custom of placing a star banner known as a Service Flag, in the front window of the home.  This custom, it turned out, was not a new one.  It began with the Gold Star Mothers Club, formed to provide support for mothers who had lost sons or daughters in the Great War, later renamed the First World War.  The custom was derived from families of servicemen who hung a banner called a Service Flag in the window of their homes. The Service Flag had a star for each family member in the military. Living servicemen were represented by a blue star, and those who had lost their lives were represented by a gold star.
My father readily adopted this custom and proudly hung the Service Flag in the front window of our home displaying two blue stars.  He was proud of his sons and prayed every day for their safe return home. In our Brooklyn neighborhood, Service Flags were displayed in the front windows of practically every household, some with blue stars and some with gold.
Although Bob was kept busy mending airplanes in England, he was lucky enough never to have been engaged in combat.  Angelo, on the other hand, was also kept busy, but in the South Pacific, his deployment would take him into combat zones on the islands of Saipan, Okinawa and Iwo Jima.  It was during the raising of the Stars and Stripes atop Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima that some of the fiercest fighting had occurred. The Marines cleared one island after another but still the fighting continued.
The United States had made many attempts to bring the war to a close, but Japan, though beaten badly, refused to surrender.  It was only after the United States had dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese soil that Japan’s sense of discretion had finally outweighed its need for valor.  
On September 2, 1945, in the middle of Tokyo Bay, on the battleship USS Missouri, the formal and unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan brought hostilities to an end.  Angelo was just short of his twentieth birthday when and he and his fellow Marines marched into Japan.  
Now that the fighting was over, Angelo found time to play his favorite sport - baseball.  It was during one of the games he played with his fellow marines that he was spotted by a naval officer who handed Angelo a card.  The officer, who had been a baseball scout before the war, invited Angelo to apply to the New York Giants farm team as a possible candidate to play professional baseball.  As far as his plans for the future were concerned, it was a toss-up: either finish high school and go to college or check out the Giant Farm Team. Either way, things were looking up.  
In Brooklyn, as well as in other parts of the world, families were welcoming their loved ones home from the war.  Housewives cried and their husbands toasted the war’s end with the fighting boys who had returned home as men.  Block parties were everywhere and in the wake of their revelry Service Flags were gradually, almost without notice, becoming less visible in the front windows of homes.  And the nation, at long last, looked forward to recapturing its rhythm of peace.

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