For a young boy World War II was a time filled with adventure stories, tales of armies, weapons, and gallant men fighting the evil Axis. One of the famous participants was Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, who had the unhappy task of surrendering Corregidor to the Japanese. He then spent several very difficult years as a prisoner of war.
Since Wainwright was a native of the state of Washington, he was chosen to be the central figure in Yakima’s 1945 Armistice Day parade. Standing at one end of the parade route, I waited impatiently as the bands and military units marched by. Finally the car carrying Wainwright approached.
I was shocked. I knew that his nickname was Skinny Wainwright, but I was not prepared for the frail, elderly man dressed in simple khakis sitting alone in the back seat of the open convertible. I suddenly had an inkling that war might be something other than romantic adventuring.
As Wainwright’s car passed, I did not know how to react, and no one else seemed to either. The applause we had given previous military units did not seem appropriate. No one waved. General Wainwright moved on in silence.
Years later I mentioned the incident to my wife. She told me that she too had watched the parade—from the other end of Yakima Avenue—and that her reaction had been exactly the same: stunned silence.
On that Armistice Day two four-teen-year-olds became dimly aware of the difference between a celebrity and a hero.