As a nation, this month we are seeing celebrations of the end of the war. Ninety-year-old veterans are being interviewed on TV; Andrews Sisters imitators are singing, “Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me. . .till I come marching home.” It’s hard to be exactly celebratory about the end of this war for those of us who lived through it (as children in my case) because of the horrible destruction of the atom bomb on such cities as Hiroshima, the loss of so many lives in that blazing inferno. The nation did what it felt it finally had to do and the war was over. That is what we celebrate: that this long, painful, agonizing struggle against the war machines of Nazi Germany and Hirohito’s Japan could close and families could reunite.
Dan Wakefield’s novel, Under the Apple Tree: A World War II Novel, which we have released this month, focuses with sensitivity, insight and wit on the pains and courage of the home front. Many a front window along the quite streets of small town America had a blue (active duty serviceperson) or gold (killed in the line of duty) star. The collective strain and worry of having so many young men in a single town at constant risk took its toll.
But it is the spirit of persistence, patriotism and prayer that carried the nation through the years of trial that the book really celebrates. Artie, the twelve-year-old hero of the book, does his part in the war effort. His heart thumps with patriotism as he collects newspapers in his old red wagon and watches for German spy planes from his roof. What drives him most of all, though, is his love of his native land. Here is the passage author Dan Wakefield most likes in Under the Apple Tree because it speaks of the spirit of America in the decade of the 1940s.
In the crisp, clear days of October, America was beautiful, just like in the song. Artie had never been “from sea to shining sea,” nor had he seen “the purple mountain’s majesty” but he knew they were out there, believed in them, and saw every day with his own eyes the beauty of the gentle hills, the creeks and cornfields, the solid old white frame houses and the ancient oaks of Town. He believed, in fact, that God had “shed his grace” on this land, that this grace was tangible, visible, in the arch of the rainbows over wet fields, the slant of shed sunlight on the sides of old barns. His pride in his country was sustained by the signs of nature and the symbols of men, not only the bright stars and stripes that flew from public buildings and hung from private porches but the comforting, everyday emblems of home: Bob’s Eats, Joe’s Premium, Mail Pouch Tobacco. This was what Roy and all the other boys were fighting to save, preserve and protect, along with the people who were lucky enough to live in and of it, and all this was sacred, worthy of any sacrifice, including life itself, for without it, life would be hollow and dumb.
Dan Wakefield is the national author who has returned to his home city after a distinguished career in writing, television and lecturing. He will be in cities in Indiana and beyond speaking about his book, the home front in America during World War II and his own childhood during that war this fall and winter.
You can buy his Under the Apple Tree: A World War II Home Front Novel on this website, $20, specially autographed by the author by clicking back to the site.