Memorial Day and the Role of Fountain Pens in War

For most people, especially the young, Memorial Day may mean the start of summer. It’s the beginning of fun days in the sun, outdoor barbecues, pool parties and holiday sales. But more than the long break, it is a day to pause and reflect about the true reason for celebrating this holiday.

 

Its origin

Memorial Day is a federal holiday said to be inspired by the way Southern states honor the dead. Back in 1868, it was originally celebrated every 30th of May no matter which day it falls and called it Decoration Day. By the 1960s, particularly in May 1966, New York (Waterloo) was declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson and in 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed moving it to the last Monday of May to make way for a long weekend.

 

Originally, it was not a celebration of any particular battle. It was a day to honor the fallen soldiers where people would remember and pray for these Union and Confederate army men by placing flowers on their graves. Later it included to celebrate the fallen soldiers who fought in the Civil War before it extended to commemorate all the men and women who served and died in the military for America.

 

Its traditions

Today aside from simply visiting cemeteries and strewing flowers, there are now certain ways people celebrate Memorial Day.  It inspired people to reflect about those who died in service by having family get-togethers, independent memorial gatherings, and heroes’ parade. Now other common and more recent traditions include conducting donation drives for fallen veterans, wearing red poppy as a tribute to the sacrifices of war and having boys’ scouts and girls’ scouts decorate soldiers’ graves with small American flags.  With all that, Memorial Day is also a time to raise American flags at half-mast and then the living raising them fully at noon to symbolize carrying on.  

 

Writing in the time of war

Reliving the fallen is easier because they have left a lot of stories behind. Years after the wars they’ve fought are over, the words they’ve written and the history they made survived. What made this possible is the trusty pen these people carried. The role of writing and the importance of having a pen at war was not only personal but universal.

 

At the heart of these battles are around 12 million letters a week reaching soldiers and home back and forth. The correspondence was at the same height of importance and urgency as the delivery of rations and ammunition for the whole war effort. It was a “hurricane of poetry”, satire, jokes and cartoons that helped the military cope and deal with the stress and experiences among the frontlines that the importance of pens and communication at the forefront of these battles.

 

People loved their pens like they loved their life; a life within the battle fields and the life waiting at home. Pens carried the most essential thing at war—hope—to write about surviving the battle, a chance for their thoughts and feelings to reach home and their love ones to return their letters and inspire them to go on. Composing letter was also widely received as the chance to convey news about the war.

 

Although a reliable pencil was also a tool of choice, it can easily be smudged and writes less vividly on paper. In this case, fountain pens and trench pens were greatly preferred because its way of connecting to paper is more ideal for letter composing. The way a person writes also shows the character of the author. There was always a specific choice of pen for a person to write with. It is like a trusted partner.

 

Among the brands used during these times were Esterbrook, Parker, Sheaffer or Waterman and English brands like Swan, Conway Stewart, among others. As supply was scarce, a pen was considered a prized possession. When fountain pens broke, they would get repaired and would be hand down from father to son, generation, after generation

 

Sign of surrender

Throughout American war times, significant war heroes had a pen used to mark history.

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In May 7, 1945 General Dwight D. Eisenhower presided the submission of Germany where a Parker 51 was used to sign the German Instrument of Surrender in Reims, France. It was a modern and sleek pen with an advanced feeding mechanism designed for the 51st anniversary of Parker. It had a hooded nib not available in other pens of that time and was mostly unavailable to the public until it became a hit after the war and ranked as one Parker’s bestsellers until it stopped production in 1972. Additionally, one Sheaffer´s Valiant pen with solid gold and vertical lines was used in the Reims Signing.

 

Meanwhile a several months later, on September 2, 1945, on board the USS Missouri was General Douglas McArthur signing the Japanese Instrument of Surrender with a 1928 Parker Duofold. Compared to the other, this one is larger and old fashioned but is more flashy considering its time. This model was expensive and was available in bright red or orange color that continued production until after the war.

 

Afterwards, liberated war prisoners Lt. General Arthur Percival and General Jonathan Wainwright each received a black Waterman fountain pen used to sign the formal surrender of Japan as a gift from General McArthur and altogether returned to the Philippines to witness the surrender of the Japanese army there.

 

Sign of the Times

Truly, pens and war are unlikely words you string together but the role pens in those times are not only mighty but also important. At present with technology widely popular, some would consider writing a lost art. However, pens continue to breakthrough as people understand the purpose and beauty in handwriting back then and now.

 

The people we lost and words they have shared will not be lost in oblivion as long as we remember. Similarly, though the trip to memory lane may be nostalgic, the significant sacrifices of the military throughout history will not be forgotten. This Memorial Day, the survivors and all of us who survived them can look back and be grateful for their contribution.

  

By Some Folks at EndlessPens

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