The Last Jump: Chapter 39
“It is true we have won all our wars, but we have paid for them.
We don’t want victories anymore.”
Golda Meir (1898 – 1978)
Macie Vance leaned closer to her Philco radio to listen to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fireside Chat. It was three o’clock in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. The President scheduled his address at the most suitable time for a worldwide audience. Macie found herself looking forward to hearing the calm, reassuring voice of the President. He had just returned from conferences with other world leaders and she was anxious to hear the outcome.
Gabriel Heatter of the Mutual Radio Network was speaking. He was a regular announcer of war news and an outspoken champion of the men and women engaged in the war effort. Macie listened intently to his distinctive, familiar voice as he provided a summary of the progress of the War in 1943 while waiting for the President.
Much of what was broadcast could have been considered propaganda but sustaining an enthusiastic and positive civilian population was an important part of the war effort. Nevertheless, 1943 did bring a marked increase in good news. The tide of the War was turning and one could sense the change.
The year started out with the Casablanca Conference in Morocco, North Africa in January. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill were the major participants. Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud co-represented the newly constituted Free French Forces. Josef Stalin declined the invitation. One significant outcome of that conference was an agreement on the direction of the Allied strategy in 1943. Sicily would be invaded in July and Italy proper by September.
The other major outcome was the declaration the Allies would only accept unconditional surrender from the Axis powers. Roosevelt insisted there would not be another negotiated armistice or fragile peace. This time, Germany, or Japan for that matter, would not be allowed to rearm in another twenty years. This global conflict would not be repeated.
The news from the Pacific was somewhat better than last year. American forces secured Guadalcanal in February after six months of brutal fighting. General MacArthur’s forces were making substantial gains pushing the Japanese back in Papua, New Guinea. A huge sea battle took place in March in the Bismarck Sea. American planes viciously attacked Japanese ships attempting to reinforce their forces on New Guinea. There were few survivors.
On 18 April, American fighter planes shot down Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto while he was traveling to Bougainville Island. Sixteen P-38 Lightning fighters from the 339th Fighter Squadron were dispatched to shoot him down. The United States had broken the Japanese codes and knew Yamamoto’s inspection itinerary. Since he was the master planner behind the Pearl Harbor attack, Americans felt a strong measure of justified retribution in killing him.
Macie recognized names of places that were once captured by the Japanese. In May the Americans recaptured the Alaskan island of Attu and reoccupied Kiska in August. The Aleutian Islands were back in American hands.
Macie pulled her chair closer to the radio as Heatter continued. In June, American forces assaulted Munda in the New Georgia Island group. The island of Bougainville was invaded in November. In all cases the Japanese forces were defeated and pushed back.
In the Central Pacific, United States Marines attacked the island atolls of Tarawa and Betio in November and defeated the Japanese after savage fighting. While much of the detailed information was heavily censored, there was no hiding that casualties were high. The Japanese remained stubborn fighters even in defeat.
In the Mediterranean, even though the Italian government had surrendered to the Allies, the Germans occupied the peninsula and put up a tenacious defense. The end of the year found the Allies stalled before the Gustov Line by determined German forces.
On the Continent, the Soviets were battering German armies on all fronts. In February, the German Sixth Army under Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus surrendered 93,000 troops to Soviet forces who surrounded them in the city of Stalingrad. The Soviets chased the other German field armies eastward until a brilliant counterstroke by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein recaptured Kharkov from the Russians and stabilized the front.
That set the stage for the German offensive in July against a well-defended salient near the city of Kursk. In the largest tank battle ever fought, the Germans were soundly defeated.
At home, American industry was hitting full stride. As Gabriel Heatter spoke, Macie confirmed the report by her own experiences. In the Newport News Shipyard, they had just launched the USS Franklin (CV-13) in October. She was the fourth Essex-class aircraft carrier built and launched from Newport News in 1943 and there were still four more under construction. A fifth carrier was launched from the Bethlehem Steel Yards. That total of five fast carriers compared to only three launched in 1942. More importantly there were nine hulls under construction in all four carrier-capable shipyards in the United States. All were scheduled to launch the following year. American mass production was beginning to gain traction and would eventually build twenty-four Essex-class carriers.
As recently as 8 September, in his Third War Loan appeal, President Roosevelt challenged the American people to continue to buy more war bonds. He appealed to them so their brothers, husbands, fathers and sons would have the best quality and highest quantity of essential war equipment. He emphasized the urgent need to end the War as quickly as possible to save innocent lives. While always gracious to thank the American people, he continually raised the bar. And Americans responded. The Third War Loan raised the staggering sum of 19,000,000,000 dollars.
Macie was gratified she actually understood most of the war news. She’d grown a great deal in the past year and a half.
Gabriel Heatter was winding down. It was time for the President to speak. She edged closer and turned the volume up just a bit.
I have recently returned from extensive journeying in the region of the Mediterranean and as far as the borders of Russia. I have conferred with the leaders of Britain and Russia and China on military matters of the present, especially on plans for stepping-up our successful attack on our enemies as quickly as possible and from many different points of the compass.
On this Christmas Eve there are over 10,000,000 men in the armed forces of the United States alone. One year ago 1,700,000 were serving overseas. Today, this figure has been more than doubled to 3,800,000 on duty overseas. By July that number overseas will rise to over 5,000,000 men and women.
President Roosevelt acknowledged the global War had dampened the Christmas spirit but that free people everywhere still cling to the noble notion of “peace on earth, goodwill toward men”. He recognized that great progress was purchased at great sacrifice. His last Christmas address consisted of a message of hope. This year he was confident of the eventual victory.
With a poised and confident voice, the President reported on his recent meetings in Cairo on 22 November with Chiang Kai-shek and in Tehran on 28 November with Josef Stalin and Prime Minister Churchill. He assured the American people that all of these distinguished world leaders were cooperating fully on wartime strategy and structuring a peaceful post-War world.
The President then reminded the American people the War was far from won, that victory was far in the future and as we closed in on our enemies’ homelands, we should anticipate long casualty lists of dead, wounded and missing. Macie shuddered at the thought. He ended his Fireside Chat by sending out a Christmas message to all American soldiers around the world.
On behalf of the American people — your own people — I send this Christmas message to you, who are in our armed forces:
In our hearts are prayers for you and for all your comrades in arms who fight to rid the world of evil.
We ask God’s blessing upon you — upon your fathers and mothers and wives and children — all your loved ones at home. We ask that the comfort of God’s grace shall be granted to those who are sick and wounded, and to those who are prisoners of war in the hands of the enemy, waiting for the day when they will again be free.
And we ask that God receive and cherish those who have given their lives, and that He keep them in honor and in the grateful memory of their countrymen forever. God bless all of you who fight our battles on this Christmas Eve.
God bless us all. Keep us strong in our faith that we fight for a better day for human kind — here and everywhere.
Macie began to tear up. She always found the President’s words both comforting and brutally honest. While predicting a victorious outcome, he tried to inure the citizens of America to the terrible toll it would require. Americans needed to prepare for the toughest part of the long road ahead. She wiped her tears with a tissue and prayed Jake would not be among those who would pay the ultimate price for freedom.
The door to the apartment swung open with a rush. Nora Lee stormed in and slammed the door behind her. She was crying as she sat down at the kitchen table. She put her face in her hands to muffle the sobs and catch her tears.
Macie rushed to her quickly and sat down beside her. “Nora, what’s the matter?”
Nora embraced Macie. “Jonah was killed on Tarawa.”
“Oh my gosh!” Macie hugged her close. “Hold me honey. Hold me tight. I’m right here for you. It’ll be all right. Just let it out.”
Nora sobbed uncontrollably for some time. Macie brought her a glass of water. Nora gained control of herself. She took a deep breath and looked at Macie.
“You would think I would be better at this by now,” she chided herself. “First Butch, now Jonah.” She paused. “I mean, I really loved Butch and I really liked Jonah…a lot.” Nora began sobbing gently again.
Macie held her as she continued.
“I mean, why did he have to join up, anyway? He was safe here, had a good job so why?” She sniffled and wiped a tear.
Macie chose not to answer. She just held Nora and rocked her gently.
“I went with Jonah to help me forget about Butch and wound up getting my heart broken twice,” Nora complained. “It doesn’t pay to wait for someone.”
“We don’t know about Butch, Nora. Maybe…” Macie tried to console her.
“I know,” Nora interrupted. “I know what those fucking Japs do to prisoners over there. Butch is as good as dead. And if he were not, he’d be better off dead. In any case, he’s not coming back to me.”
“You don’t know that, Nora. You’re just upset.”
“I tried not to care. I went with a lot of guys. I tried to protect myself from this heartache…but I can’t do it anymore.” Nora suddenly controlled herself, straightened up in the chair and raised her head high. “Would you like some tea?”
Macie had seen this before, the rapid mood change. It was as if Nora commanded herself to regain control of her mind and body.
“I’d love some,” Macie replied. “Let me do it.” Macie got up to fill the teapot.
“I’m not raising my hopes that Butch will come back. The odds are against it. They’re against anyone coming back.” Nora was calm and now speaking matter-of-factly.
Macie lit the stove and sat back down. “If hope is all we have, why just throw it away?”
Nora suddenly realized what she had said. “I’m so sorry, Macie. What was I thinking? Selfish me! I didn’t mean Jake. I didn’t mean to…”
Macie raised her hand and Nora stopped. “I understand, Nora. Believe me, I get it!”
“You’re like a sister to me, Macie,” Nora continued. “I don’t want to see you hurt. Derek is a great guy and he’s here and he’s not going anywhere near a battlefield.”
Macie just nodded. Derek had been her struggle since she met him.
“If you don’t nail him down now, plenty of other girls will.” Nora got up and retrieved two large coffee mugs and four teabags from the pantry.
“Do you know what he actually said to me?” Macie didn’t wait for an answer. “If anything happened to Jake he would be there for me.” She paused. “Imagine that? I worry about Jake all the time. What am I supposed to do with that information?”
“Nothing Macie. He’s just telling you how much he cares for you right now but you can’t keep him on a string forever.”
“I’m not trying to, Nora. At least I don’t think I am. He just won’t go away.”
“All I’m saying Macie is that Derek is a catch and if I were you, I’d reel him in before he gets away. Derek’s a sure thing and losing Jake would rip your heart out.”
“I understand you, Nora, but it’s not that easy.”
“Sure it is! Which one do you love right this minute, Sweetie?”
“In some ways I think I love them both.”