Ruth Bass: When the virus is masked, morality beats out mortality

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RICHMOND — World War II is such ancient history that only 300,000 of its original 6 million veterans are still alive, all of them in their 90s or 100s. But those of us who planted Victory Gardens and loaned money to the country by buying and pasting stamps in little booklets remember that time as part of our history and have plenty of memories about our daily lives.

First of all, we basically couldn't go anywhere beyond where our bikes took us. Gas was strictly rationed, and our family book of coupons for fuel was used up with our father going to work (actually, sometimes even he rode a bike), plus trips he had to make to our grandmother's house. Also, the top half of all headlights was painted black to cut down on what could be visible from the air, although I remember very few times when the car (the one car) went out after dark.

The buses ran, and as 8- and 10-year-olds, we were sent to the center of Brockton to stand in line for bread and, if we were lucky, some butter. Otherwise, mashed potatoes and toast and green beans and everything fried was made with oleo margarine. Oleo was as white as Crisco and sold with a yellow/orange pellet designed to make it butter color. Our mother wanted it to really look like butter, so we had to beat it until it had no streaks.

You could get beef if you knew the black market guys, but our parents were all about being legal. So our father raised animals for beef. Chickens and an enormous vegetable garden plus raspberries meant we suffered few food shortages. But sugar was scarce, and restrictions on quantity applied to many products. Hoarding was considered a sin and unpatriotic.

Because Brockton wasn't far from the coast, we pulled down our shades at sunset, and one of my father's volunteer tasks was to walk the neighborhood and make sure everyone was complying. He also had a schedule, as did Richmond resident Virginia Larkin, for doing plane spotting.

So, we meandered through elementary school without thinking much about what all of it meant, having no real sense that the Germans might be flying overhead in the planes Dad was looking for and certainly not knowing U-boats were not far offshore, nor that Nazis had killed millions of Jews, Catholics and others. We just rolled up the foil from candy bars and saved cooking fat in cans, turning both in for military use. And blondes cut their locks so the hairs could be used as cross-hairs in a newly developed, secret bombsight.

While all this little stuff was going on in our lives — all of us doing what we were supposed to do because we believed what our country was asking of us — my future husband was in Holland, Belgium and Germany, a college student turned Army medic. He and his friends signed up to do what they were needed to do, also believing.

Today, leaders don't persuade us to believe. Instead, we have fellow Americans — and a president — who are so self-centered, so unloving, so lacking a moral compass, so uncaring about our nation's welfare that they can't stop hugging or stay away from a rally or a beach? Or wear a mask for us? Give me a break.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.

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