Author L.Y. Marlow reflects on the legacy of Pearl Harbor and World War II
two little girls who dared…
A strong hand grabbed Morris by the scruff of his uniform, lifting his head out of the choppy water. “Don’t let go! I got you, buddy!… He lowered Morris to the ground, near a pile of other men. To Morris, it felt like rebirth. He had been going under, preparing for the end. Now, he was on a boat, heaving up ocean water.
“Are you the one . . .” Morris choked. “Are you the one who pulled me from the water?” The one who saved me?” . . . “I wouldn’t say I saved you. I just gave you a hand is all.”
Morris lay there, unmoving. A heavy anguish settled over him. How long since his life had changed forever? He closed his eyes, imagined being in another place, at another time, away from all the commotion, the burning ships, as he kept his thoughts locked on the Lord’s Prayer: Our Father who art in Heaven . . . His faith . . . the only thing that gave him hope.
As a little girl, I knew I had a gift the day I wrote one of my first poems: Money Can’t Buy Love. My dad was so convinced it was a hit that he went against my mother’s wishes, sending the poem along with $100 to an unknown publisher. I was heartbroken when the fruits of my labor didn’t pay off. But what I couldn’t see then, that I clearly understand now, is that poem was toughening my creative backbone.
Who knew that an 11-year-old brown girl from Wilson Park Projects would have the moxie, the sheer tenacity to later write a story about war, love and forgiveness? That more than 35 years later, within days of the President’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, that story, the fruits of her labor, would finally pay off . . .
I vividly recall the day, one ripe fall Sunday morning, I sat with the phone pressed against my ear listening to my best friend sob as she told the story of her father who had served on one of the ships that was bombed at Pearl Harbor. Later, during that same time, a chance meeting between her mother and father would spark a forbidden love. As I listened to her share her family’s story, I sobbed too as my heart opened to the inspiration for A Life Apart.
I was moved to wrap a story around a white sailor that falls in love with the sister of a black sailor who saved his life at Pearl Harbor: a forbidden love that spanned nearly 50 years and transcended World War II and the Civil Rights era. During a time when not only the country was at war, but when segregation was in full force and interracial relations were taboo.
It was truly a labor of love to craft the untethered devotion between Morris (a white sailor) and Beatrice (a young black woman) and do it against the backdrop of a raging and terrible war. Every morning as I wrote, I found myself intrigued by Morris and Beatrice and the way they each spoke to me. At times, I didn’t know where their story would lead, but they each taught me to surrender, to trust in my own mind and heart. I allowed myself to be transported back in time, to a history I knew very little about… until now. I became enamored with the events surrounding the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and how war, race, and the grace of humanity impacted the two families at the heart of this story.
Now, as we are 70 years on from World War II, when moments in infamy forever changed our world, I can’t help but wonder if we honor the sacrifices that altered lives to amend our own? Do we teach our children, pay homage to our ancestors?
My curiosity piqued when a friend told me about her 11-year-old daughter, Camille, who visited the Memorial de Caen Museum in Normandy, France (commemorating World War II and D-Day) as part of a summer youth program. While there, their assignment was to write a letter to the memory of their ancestors about the sacrifices they made nearly 70 years ago and how their struggles affected today’s younger generations. Here’s what Camille wrote:
Dear brave soldiers,
I am so thankful and appreciative for your sacrifices that helped generations to come.
Standing on the beach in Normandy was a sad part of the trip to Europe. After hearing the stories of war, I kept thinking of the children who lost their parents. I cannot imagine losing my mom and dad that way and what I would do as an orphan in that time. I couldn’t help but think how blessed I am to have my mom, dad, a home and school.
Thank you for your contributions to our freedom.
If it wasn’t for you, I would not be here today.
That 11-year-old little girl from Wilson Park Projects that dared to dream and utter a story that honors such a daunting and delicate time finds hope in knowing that 11-year-old little Camille dared to have the courage to travel abroad and honor our ancestors.
A selection of the letters written by the children are on permanent display on the Memorial de Caen’s website.
About the contributor: L.Y. Marlow is the author of Color Me Butterfly and the founder of Saving Promise, a national organization dedicated to raising awareness of and preventing domestic violence. She lives in Maryland.