Friday, June 29, 2012

It seems unthinkable to us, after 64 years of continuous July Fourth celebrations in Monett, that there should ever have been a time when a big birthday bash for the nation was not a centerpiece for the community.

Think back to 70 years ago. In 1942, the nation was reeling with the reality of the biggest war the world had ever known. Monett Mayor V.B. Hall appealed to volunteers for anti-aircraft duty, even though most people could not imagine such a need.

The war had come home to Monett. Already four young men from the community had been killed in military duty. Rationing was a daily reality. Sugar was limited. You couldn't buy a new car or truck, and tires were so strictly rationed that as tires gave out, people had to quit driving.

No July Fourth celebration was planned. Times publisher Kenneth G. Meuser and his reporters asked around and found people really wanted to do something. With the newspaper's encouragement, an informal rally was organized. It may have been little more than a town picnic at South Park, but people came. A fiddling contest provided a little live entertainment.

After dark, everyone went home. There were no fireworks. Wasting potential munitions was practically unthinkable. By 11 p.m., on a night when it was commonplace to hear fireworks popping here and there, The Times reported the town was quiet.

Those who could not think of going to war were trying to do their part. It was in July that the War Mothers organized. After two successful dances were held to entertain soldiers who came to town from Camp Crowder, the War Mothers decided to host monthly dances. They would use their organizing skills to throw a festive party for the young men.

The teenage girls of Monett were recruited to serve as dance partners for the soldiers in the closely chaperoned settings for these dances at the City Park Casino. Speaking decades later, these women beamed with pride when they talked about those dances and the little part they played.

We've never heard stories about what these dances meant to the soldiers, many of whom came from the far ends of the nation. But knowing those who ran the dances, there can be no doubt that the hospitality of Monett shined through.

Patriotism is a word that makes us think of the most heroic deeds. Yet there are many ways to serve. The people of Monett, in the darkest hours of World War II, did their part without reservation.

As we celebrate yet another July Fourth, may the memory of the sacrifices of those days, and the smiles of Monett's girls dancing with soldiers they would never see again, offer a reminder of what makes our nation great.