by Phil Keren
Cuyahoga Falls -- A local World War II veteran and author thinks Memorial Day should still be marked on May 30, its original date of observance.
Dick Stodghill, a Cuyahoga Falls resident who served as a rifleman in the 4th Infantry Division during World War II, said once the United States began observing the holiday on a Monday "It got away from what it was intended to be."
When the holiday was observed on May 30, Stodghill said citizens "concentrated on that. That was the focal point. When they made it a three-day weekend, people are thinking about all kinds of other activities. I think it takes the emphasis away from it. It used to be a lot more meaningful."
The holiday still carries deep meaning for Stodghill, who recounts his own experiences in the book "Normandy 1944: A Young Rifleman's War," published by Publish America last year.
Stodghill said he originally put together the book for his family members in 1998, and did not initially intend to make it available in wider release.
"Then I decided that ... too many of us that were in the war just never said much [about serving] ... I figured it's better to talk about it," said Stodghill, who also served in the Korean War.
Stodghill noted he "made quite a few notes" shortly after the events happened, but also relied on his memory and a small amount of research to put together his story.
"I'm fortunate enough to have a good memory," said Stodghill. "Much of it is forever in my mind . . . there isn't a day [that] goes by that a lot of it doesn't come back to me."
He added he feels that sentiment is true for anyone who has served in infantry combat for any length of time. Stodghill said his work was designed to offer a realistic account of the war experience.
"I thought it was just better to write what it really was like for the men who did the actual fighting," he said.
Stodghill said he believes a lot of writings about fighting in a war make the experience sound "real great [and] real glorious . . . It's just not that way."
In contrast, Stodghill described fighting in a war as "horrible" and "very, very tiring. [You] never rest."
One reason for the exhausting experience, according to Stodghill, was the Army's system for relieving troops in World War II.
"Once a division was on the line, it stayed there," said Stodghill.
This lack of relief "resulted in pretty low morale for people," said Stodghill. "There was nothing to look forward to until the war ended."
Although the challenge of fighting in a war was enormous, Stodghill believed that growing up during the Great Depression helped prepare him and his fellow soldiers for service overseas.
In the opening chapter of his book, Stodghill wrote, "For those of us too young to remember any other way of life it was as normal as breathing in and breathing out. The one thing we didn't know was prosperity, something we were told was just around the corner. In retrospect I believe we were better off in many ways than kids growing up under more affluent conditions. We learned to improvise and to make do with what we had."
"It did toughen you up quite a bit," said Stodghill to Record Publishing Co. "When you had the hardship of war, it wasn't such a terrible contrast as if you'd had a more comfortable life."
Stodghill recalled his first Memorial Day after the end of World War II in 1945. He attended a cemetery service where there were many white wooden crosses and Stars of David on the gravesites.
"That was moving because all of us had lost a lot of friends," said Stodghill. "That was very touching."
Stodghill said he still keeps in touch with three of the men he served with and thinks about his experiences nearly every day.
Stodghill said he believes the city of Cuyahoga Falls does "a pretty good job" observing Memorial Day with its parade and subsequent service at Oakwood Cemetery. He also believes the occasion is a chance for citizens to think about the experience of war.
"If people really reflect on it, they may realize how terrible a thing war is [and] that would be good," said Stodghill. "The more people who don't think it's a great adventure, that would be good."