Thousands of service flags are carefully stored by a wonderful group of volunteers in Red Oak, Iowa and flown on Memorial Day. It is a true labor of love and deep respect. Red Oak lost a highly disproportionate share of soldiers in both the Civil War and World War II. These photos really do not do justice to the sheer number of flags that do not fail to tighten the throat or bring a tear to the eye.
Made up of young men from southwest Iowa, Company M was in north Africa, Tunisia, fighting the Nazis when they were ambushed in a place known as Kasserine Pass. Life Magazine ran an article on this event with a stunning photo of our town with the locations of the family homes that received telegrams in early March 1943 that their soldier was missing. The headline, "War Hits Red Oak: A small prairie town gets word that 23 of its boys are missing in action after a battle in North Africa."
Red Oak lost more than 50 men in World War II, many of them in this battle.
From her book, "The Home Fronts of Iowa 1939-1945," Lisa K. Ossian writes,
"In 1946 the nation noted its military losses as the Saturday Evening Post remembered Red Oak's:
'If New York City had lost as many sons as this Iowa town, the dead would have numbered 70,000.'
The article continued: 'Red Oak, Iowa looks like the home town we dreamed of overseas; rich and contented, with chicken and blueberry pie on Sundays, for whose sake some said we were fighting the war. It is the kind of town we wanted to be the same when we came home, at the same time it would somehow know what the war was about.'
Without a doubt, this is true 70 years later. Growing up in this town, in the early 1970s, this amazing story was never told. I did not learn of any of this until I was in college. Thirty years was still too close, too painful for many.
There is also the sense of getting on with life. No one was doing this for fame, fortune, or glory. They did what they were asked to do. It was their duty and they threw themselves into it. When they returned, if they returned, the counted themselves as blessed because they had seen and experienced things no one should. Their next duty was to go back to their lives and make things right again. And they did. Quietly, they put these days behind them and honored them silently through their everyday lives.