But the part of the exhibit that really moved me was a simple glass case in the WWII section that held these items:
- A letter from a young soldier to his sister, reassuring her that he was well and asking her to give his love to the rest of the family
- An unopened letter (yes, still unopened) addressed to the soldier, with the sister's return address
- An unopened PACKAGE wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string (yes, still unopened), also addressed to the soldier
- The army notification to the soldier's family that he had been killed.
The sister asked that her letter and the package never be opened, and there they are still, in a glass case. What did her letter say? What was in the package? We'll never know, because we aren't meant to. Their contents are between a young girl and her soldier brother, and belong only to them.
It made me think about my grandmother and my father, and what it must have been like on the day they got the news that their son and brother, Clinton Foster Goodwin Jr., had died in battle in France during WWII.
While we were wandering around the museum, I was also reminded of the first time I ever heard of the Bataan Death March. It was when I was watching a televised Memorial Day event. Actor Charles Durning, himself a decorated WWII veteran, read one soldier's personal account of the Death March. The whole time that Durning spoke, tears streamed down his face. It was one of the most moving things I've ever seen, and I couldn't believe that I had never really known about the Bataan Death March before.
At the museum, I was also reminded of the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. It tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic hopeful who served in WWII. After his ship went down, he and two other men survived more than 40 days on a liferaft. But that wasn't the worst part. When they washed up on shore, they were captured by the Japanese. Louis was singled out by the camp commander for brutal physical and emotional torment. Nevertheless, Zamperini's story is one of survival, resilience and triumph of the human spirit.