Halycon Moments Amid World War II

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for July 25, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Last week as I was going through some old family photographs, I came across several taken at the Pacific Front during World War II. My attention was especially drawn to a shot of a group of American soldiers in battle helmets, taking a break in an area which looked totally shelled out by enemy artillery, stripped of all vegetation, bare tree trunks, some standing, some lying on the ground. The GI taking a drink of water from his canteen was my Uncle Joe (well, he became my Uncle Joe, after the War, when he came home and married my aunt). The photo, which I posted on my Facebook Page, “Ray Spitzenberger, Author and Artist @WendWriterWhittler,” brought back childhood memories of that War. I invite my readers to “like” my Page if you want to see the photo and other pictures and ponderings.

            World War II was traumatic for everybody, especially for a child; I was 5 years old when it began in 1939, and 11 when it ended in 1945. The thoughts and feelings about this terrible conflict in my memory-bank continue to motivate me to write about the War. Perhaps experiencing that difficult era as a child and seeing it through a child’s mind make it impossible to capture what’s inside you and to share with readers. Other people my age have expressed somewhat the same feelings about this second major world war, which began not too long after World War I (ironically called “the War to End All Wars”) ended.

            Of course, we weren’t bombed, we didn’t have to run to air raid shelters as folks in England had to, and our beautiful land was not shelled into deforestation as the Pacific islands were. Our trauma was more subtle, — we missed our fathers and uncles at the Christmas dinner table, cherishing their letters which brought tears; we listened to the radio every day with great anxiety, hoping the War news would be better than the day before; we grieved with those who received “killed-in-action” telegraphs or letters; and, willingly sacrificing, we bought food, gas, tires, and shoes with limited war ration stamps and raised “Victory Gardens.” We were proud of our soldiers fighting for us, and our greatest solace was God and our church.

            It’s almost impossible to express the importance of our church to those of us living in our rather isolated little rural town of Dime Box. My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were active members of this “Center” of our lives, my mother serving as church organist and playing an old pump organ, pumping air with her feet to activate the sounds. My poem about the War and our little rural church, “This Easeful Hour Made Halcyon,” was published recently in the Bellville Poets Society’s Chapbook. I want to include it here, because it comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible:


the time, childhood

the church, rural

the moon, large,

lighting up the outside

the gasoline lanterns, pumped,

lighting up the inside

the wheezing sounds

of the old pump organ

commence vespers with plainsong

mama, the organist,

pumping and playing,

her fingers and feet


freed of rheumatism

by the music

sifting through her mind and heart

the kindly old pastor,

in cassock and surplice,

slow-moving and serene,

lights the candles himself

this easeful hour

made halcyon

by homily, hymns and prayers

in the midst of bellicose news

from the blood-stained trenches

of a world at war


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of It Must Be the Noodles.

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