March 23, 2020
By Arthur H.Gunther III
In the very early hours of a Tuesday in Spring Valley, N.Y., my car rolled down Franklin Street past what was Eckerson’s blacksmith shop where during World War II my grandfather Art Sr. worked with other men to pack scrap paper and cardboard in one of millions of such home-based efforts throughout the United States. It was quiet volunteerism, not seeking praise, done almost in anonymity, rolling up sleeves to do what could be accomplished as battles raged in Europe and the Pacific.
For my grandfather, the scrap drive was also a way to support his son Winfield, soon to lose two fingers in the Huertgen Forest battles.
Near the smithy on Franklin was the Valley’s memorial board listing men and women in service. The family names there were repeated from the First World War, so small was the village and so little the change between conflicts.
Also on Franklin was a small, shingled house, No. 16, where about 8 years later, the war over, the scrap drive recalled in memory and fading photographs, my fourth-grade self was able to play games with Tring Butt, my friend. The scrap drive, the selfless service of civilians and military, made that possible.
Life picked up so quickly in peacetime, the old, realized fears of both a Second World War and the Great Depression proceeding it now pushed into the subconscious by post-war progress and optimism. The wonderful ordinariness of peacetime rapidly sang its song, once again proving the resilience of humankind.
We are now again “at war,” fighting the coronavirus, another chapter in the story of the world: super-major challenges, suffering, inevitable death. But also the heroics of so many, the selfless-giving, the quiet duty fulfilled.
When I drove down Franklin Street on March 17, itself a day of import for the great Irish and their knowing souls, I would arrive at a soup kitchen now 35 years old, held just two blocks away at the old Dutch Reformed Church, now Church of the Nazarene.
Volunteers in the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program were preparing bagged hot breakfast and lunches for any comer, who ordinarily could sit down in the church’s meeting room. Now, social distancing.
The giving of that moment rode on the echoes of the volunteers in my grandfather’s own World War II effort. People are good.
This time, too, will pass.
The writer is a retired newspaperman.