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Memories of another war

District elders say they pray for resolution

(Published October 22, 2001)


Staff Writer

Reminiscent images of war are not far from the minds of some local elders as American bombs rain on known Taliban locations in Afghanistan. Four D.C. residents who lived through World War II recently shared their experiences and thoughts on the current state of affairs.

All are troubled by the passionate hatred displayed by the terrorists toward the United States – a stark contrast to the 1940s love expressed for Americans when military leaders like generals Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower led U.S. soldiers into battle to help rescue allied European troops.

Roy Hayes, Curtis Odrick and Joseph Wells are all blind today, though not due to participating in World War II. As they listen to the descriptive language about the terrorist attacks being used on television and radio, these men say they can still feel the traumatizing impact that Sept. 11 has left on America.

Both Hayes and Wells feel the attacks served as a warning to America. Hayes called the attacks a wake-up call that America needed to know that even a superpower can get hurt. Odrick expressed his disbelief. "It felt like a bad dream," he said.

Odrick also said the attacks were a violation and a sign that American civilization is slowly being destroyed. With reports of anthrax contaminations now in the news daily, the men expressed a concern that someone is taking advantage of the situation and causing a scare.

"I have a feeling it’s an inside job. However, there is a background to all of this. You have to ask yourself, ‘Why is there someone out there that is hating you so much?’" said Odrick.

Nora Gregory said she, too, is trying to understand why is so much hate is being directed toward Americans. Gregory sorrowfully stated that she feels "great sadness" toward the victims and their families who were hurt on Sept. 11.

In dealing with the attacks, Gregory said she finds comfort in the boundaries of her own home. Gregory’s Southeast Washington home sits on a hill away from the busy traffic. It is her well-groomed yard with its vital grass and slightly arched trees where Gregory says she finds peace.

"Look outside my window. That is my sanctuary. I go outside and talk with God. In this time of need, all you can do is pray," Gregory said.

Wells and Odrick also have been dealing with the recent events through prayer. "Through prayer is the only way we can get through this," Odrick said.

Hayes said he is reminded of a biblical verse as he recalls his days in World War II and reflects on the Sept. 11 attacks.

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways. I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land," quotes Hayes.


"It wasn’t easy as I remember," says Gregory of her days in the District during World War II. "There were very few opportunities."

Gregory, 88, is a sister of Dr. Charles Drew and the widow of Frances Gregory, whom the library on Alabama Avenue is named after. Both Gregory and her husband were educators during World War II.

"My husband was an electrical engineer, but during that time jobs were hard to find. My husband could not find a job in his field so he switched to education," says Gregory.

Gregory’s husband went on to teach electrical engineering at Armstrong High School while Gregory was teaching at Phelps Vocational School. Gregory explained that students would do all they could to help out with the war effort. Gregory explained that in most cases the mothers were working in factories and the children would do little things to help out with the family.

"Kids were not a problem," says Gregory.

Gregory remembered how students would collect cans and smash them and bring them to school as a show of patriotism. She said the smashed cans were recycled to be used as materials for the war.

"Everything was rationed, even the food. Every Wednesday night I fixed liver and onions with mashed potatoes," laughs Gregory. "My husband was getting a little tired of the that dinner, but it was good."

Gregory also remembered people collecting stamps to buy war bonds and holding onto them [the bonds] until their value increased.

While people were coming together on the home front, others were on the battlefield and receiving news from home.

Wells, 81, served in the Army during World War II. While away he remembers receiving correspondence from his family and clip notes from home. One particular detail he remembers is the black press promoting the idea of sending black soldiers to the front lines of the infantry.

"Back at home, everyone was talking about our boys on the front lines, but no one knew how serious this was," says Wells. Wells further expressed that the ones who were hyping the idea of sending black men to war were only caught up in the moment of patriotism and war and was not taking in consideration for the lives that would be lost.

Odrick, 76, was also in the Army during World War II. Odrick vividly recalled the gas mask drills that were done. Odrick explained how soldiers were taught to use gas masks in case of emergencies.

"I remember the smell of the gas. It smelled like a violent flower," says Odrick. He said he also recalls receiving correspondence from his family by way of "V" Mail. "V" Mail, with the "V" standing for victory, was an eight by nine letter placed in a condensed black envelope to be mailed to military service men. Odrick received a range of news. From "the family is fine" letters to a highly publicized public transportation strike in Philadelphia that was making national news, Odrick read about it but never had time to write back.

Hayes, 84, served in the Air Force during World War II. Because he did not write to his family, Hayes did not receive correspondences. "You just could not let your family know where you were. Everything was top secret. If you did send mail you just could not put a specific return address," Hayes said.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator