THE MARGUERITE CHRONICLES, DECEMBER 7. 2016:
It happened seventy-five years ago, and the day still lives in infamy. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was bombed by the Japanese. Last year on the anniversary of that heinous act, Mama had an appointment with an eye doctor, and he asked his elderly patient what she was doing that day in 1941. A young woman answered, with vivid detail. I’m so glad he asked, because I had never thought to.
On December 7, 1941, Marguerite was the wife of Captain George H. Van Hoorebeke, US Army. He was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and they thought they had the world by the tail. He was handsome; she was beautiful; they were both intelligent, accomplished people with great work ethics, personalities, and a bright future ahead. They lived in a duplex close to post, with their first-born daughter, Virginia, who was just shy of 9 months old. (Yes, ‘post’ is correct. The army has posts; the other services have bases. Those of us who speak army cringe when someone says ‘army base.’ There’s no such animal. Thank you.) Anyway, Ginny woke up feverish that morning, and was covered with red spots. Measles. And of course, this was years before any vaccine had been developed. Although it was a Sunday, George was out on manuevers at Camp Bullis, and Marguerite started calling the post dispensary to see about taking Ginny to see a doctor. She tried and tried, but for some reason, got one busy signal after another. She couldn’t get through.
So, with a fussy infant on her shoulder, Marguerite sat down to read the morning paper over a cup of coffee, and turned on the radio. She spent the morning trying to soothe tiny, red-spotted Ginny. Sometime after lunch, regular programming was interrupted, and she heard the terrible news — news that would affect every day of her life as long as she lived. Japanese warplanes had attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, and our country was at war. The Sunday paper was left, half-read; lunch went uneaten. An elderly couple lived in the other half of the duplex; they didn’t own a radio. So, with Ginny in her arms, Marguerite ran around to their back door to tell them what had happened in Hawaii. Everyone was shocked. No wonder she couldn’t get through to the dispensary – the entire post was caught up in preparing for war, and nobody had time to see an infant with measles.
On that unforgettable morning, war had come to change the world, and her personal circumstances were suddenly precarious. The idyllic lifestyle she’d enjoyed as a peacetime officer’s wife and young mother was going to change, and change it did. George anticipated orders for Hawaii, but soon, those plans changed. As the young infantry captain readied for combat, Marguerite got a civilian job handling payroll at Camp McCain, Mississippi, not far from her family home. Her mother and young sister, Polly, came to live with them. In June of 1943, a second daughter was born. Carole was about six weeks old when her father went overseas. She missed him the rest of her life.
George landed in Normandy on D-Day Plus 5, with Company I, 39th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, and was awarded the Bronze Star for what he did in battle. We don’t know exactly what happened that day. Place names and units were redacted from the text, as this was wartime, but the citation reads:
For exceptionally meritorious achievement in performance of outstanding service against the enemy in __________ on June 11, 1944.
And on September 13, 1944, somewhere near Brest, Captain Van Hoorebeke died a hero for the freedom of France and the world beyond. For his actions, he was awarded the Silver Star. Mama and my sisters received his awards in a ceremony at Camp Crowder, near Joplin, Missouri. The citation accompanying that award reads:
On September 13, 1944, Company ___, ____Infantry, was attacking the city of _____. Due to the large number of casualties sustained, the second platoon, led by a squad leader, had failed to advance after repeated attempts. Captain Van Hoorebeke, going forward in an effort to remedy the situation, found that two enemy machine guns were holding a platoon back. Completely disregarding his own personal safety, he went to the front of the platoon and directed fire on the hostile positions until they were silenced. Just as the guns were knocked out and the situation seemed favorable for an advance, Captain Van Hoorebeke was killed by a sniper. The gallantry, disregard for personal safety and unswerving devotion to duty displayed by this officer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.
So, the attack on Pearl Harbor was the beginning of the end of George Van Hoorebeke’s life. But it did not end his legacy. His daughters never knew him, but they knew about him, and today, I take care of his widow ~ the Marguerite who lost the man who loved her and the hopes they shared.
Mama’s never been a signs-and-wonders kind of person, but she told me that through the years, whenever she faced the toughest trials of life, George appeared in her dreams with words of love and comfort.
Their daughters – my older sisters – are both gone now. But shortly after Ginny died in 2012, Carole had a dream. She saw Ginny walking down a heavenly street, holding hands with George, her father. Walking towards them from the other direction was my dad, who married the widowed Marguerite and her two daughters in 1946. Ginny’s eyes lit up when she spotted him, and she said to her father, “Come over here — I want you to meet my daddy.”
Pearl Harbor Day. Seventy-five years since the world went to war. It might be possible to calculate the costs of planes and warships in dollars, but the personal price paid by the Georges and Marguerites of the nineteen-forties can never be totaled.
And Marguerite lives on, at age 96 — with love, with wit, with humor, and grace; a character shaped by the wounds of war. I’m proud to be her daughter.