a heart-warming reminiscence plus a painful on
David E. Dix
For me it’s interesting to catch up with people by reading the news they send with Christmas cards.
This year’s card from an old high school chum, Roger Swagler, now retired from the University of Georgia where he taught economics, carried a beautifully written memory of Christmas 1945. Here it is:
“It was 75 years ago; I was four, living in Wadsworth with my mother, sister, and grandparents. My father had been fighting in Europe and while VE Day was in May 1945, troops were slow to return home. There had been no word from him in weeks.
“On Christmas Eve 1945, my father simply showed up at the door, unannounced. I recall only great joy and commotion, though I must have been unsure of this strange man in the house.
“In 1995, my parents and I drank a Christmas-Eve toast to that night. Still, they provided few details; their just-get-on-with-things manner left little room for marking milestones. I can only imagine that whatever exasperation my mother may have felt was overwhelmed by the joy of having her husband safely home.
“I have since learned that though the military initiated ‘Operation Magic Carpet’ to speed demobilization, transport was overburdened and the progress was slow. As Christmas approached, ‘Operation Santa Claus’ was meant to expedite the process. Some 40,000 troops arrived home on the 24th including my father.
“Christmas was on a Tuesday in 1945 and President Truman declared a four-day holiday to give everyone more time to celebrate.
“I don’t recall the celebration at our house, but it must have been the most heartfelt ever. These many years (and many fine gifts) later, it is clear that (Operation) Santa Claus brought me the best Christmas gift I ever received. May that spirit enrich your Christmas … “
Like a lot of young people these days, Roger interrupted his college studies to sort out things, earn some money and worked in the news department at the Record-Courier in its Ravenna office in the early 1960s. He finished up at Ohio State where he received his doctorate in economics.
Janet and I have enjoyed the autumn visits by Roger and Julia when they come north from their home in Athens, Georgia to take in Northeast Ohio’s colorful leaves. Until the pandemic, we had been meeting them annually for a weekend in New York where we would attend a play or musical on Broadway, visit a museum or two, sample the foods and walk Manhattan’s interesting streets.
Roger’s father worked for Shell Oil and his responsibilities included overseeing the company’s service plazas on the Ohio Turnpike. In that capacity, he helped some of our high school classmates find summer employment pumping gas and servicing cars at the Hiram Plaza near Route 700.
ELSEWHEREWhen we exchanged Christmas cards with Kent State Professor Mark Kretovics and his wife, Deborah Saito, we read of their busy year. We learned the alumni had funded a “Mark Kretovics student travel scholarship” and that Deb is collaborating on a documentary based on the book, “The Colonel and the Pacifist,” in which her father played an important role. The book concerns the concentration camps that were set up on the West Coast to house 120,000 Japanese Americans for the duration of World War II. That shameful episode marked a failure by America to respect the rights of its citizens.
Deb’s father, a pacifist, became a prominent clergyman in the Methodist Church. In 1981, he testified before a body Congress had created to revisit the issue of America’s concentration camps where he, his mother, and his siblings had been ordered. Following the hearings, in 1988, Congress issued a formal apology to Japanese Americans incarcerated during the war and passed a reparations bill that awarded them financially less than the amounts most had lost by having to surrender their homes and businesses for three years in the camps. In 1945, with the war winding down, the Supreme Court ruled the War Relocation Authority had, “no authority to subject citizens who are concededly loyal to its leave procedure.”
Milton Eisenhower, the younger brother of the future president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was the first administrator of the War Relocation Authority. He quit after three months protesting the imprisonment of innocent citizens. Lt. General John DeWitt, who had argued for relocating Japanese Americans into camps during the war, did so in a report filled with falsehoods.
The policy was inconsistent because the military in Hawaii said no relocation camps were necessary for 160,000 Japanese Americans residing in the islands. There, Japanese Americans loyally supported the American war effort.
David E. Dix is a former publisher of the Record-Courier.