Tales of the South Pacific

I spent the evening in rehearsal tonight at the high school where I’m accompanying for the musical South Pacific.  If by chance you’re not familiar with the story, it’s set in WWII on some anonymous island somewhere in the South Pacific.  The main characters are forced to confront some serious prejudices about race relations when they find themselves falling in love with the native islanders.  It’s an old musical, and that was a valid issue in those days – hard as that is to believe nowadays, in the 1940’s an American GI would find himself facing some serious problems were he to bring home a girl whose “eyes were oddly made” (as go the lyrics of one of the songs).

Obviously, I connect with this show on lots of levels, and not just because my son is married to a woman from Thailand.  My father was one of those sailors who served in the South Pacific, and when I watch all these baby faced high school boys dressed in their sailor whites, I realize that most of the boys over there fighting that war for real were just about that age.  My dad was – he left high school and joined up as so many of the young men did back then.  So was my uncle, who served in the air force and spent his war time in the Atlantic theater.  Both of them were second generation Americans, and yet this country was their home and when it came time to defend it they didn’t hesitate for a second.  They were no older than any of the boys on that stage tonight, boys who have grown up in a safe suburban environment, whose greatest danger probably comes from talking on their cell phones or texting while driving.

That’s not to say, of course, that the world will always be safe for them, or for their children.  These kids were about 9 or 10 years old on September 11, 2001,  the morning that “will live in infamy” for those who came of age in the 21st century.  For only the second time in the history of our country, we were attacked on our native soil.  It’s a sobering event, certainly, and makes you think differently about your safety and your freedom – makes you less likely to take it for granted.

My friend Pat, who is directing the show, and is a teacher to her very core, has spent lots of time educating the kids about what life was like during the Second World War – the spirit of sacrifice, the rationing, the patriotism.  The Sunday afternoon matinee performance is dedicated to veterans of that war, and they will be admitted free of charge and given reserved seats in the front row of the auditorium.  It’s likely to be an emotional moment for me, as I recall my father, and my uncle, and think about them as young, innocent men, stepping up to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary for the country they both loved.  I will blink back tears, I’m sure, as I say a silent prayer and thank them for their service.

And as I think about my son, who was able to bring a young woman from the South Pacific home to American without a second thought about prejudice or discrimination. 

That’s really what it was all about after all, wasn’t it?


4 thoughts on “Tales of the South Pacific

  1. I forget sometimes that prejudice is such a big part of our history. I live in a pretty tolerant area. The last time I watched South Pacific I was kind of shocked – so sad that people carry such terrible feelings.

  2. I love this post, Becca — it shows how far we have come. And I never made the leap of the age those kids are to the age the real-life soldiers were. That’s pretty powerful.

    A few years ago, we did a series of two oral history documentaries on World War II — interviewed about 50 vets from both theatres, put their transcripts on our website. I edited those (you know, removing the “umms” and “uhs”) and found them powerful stories about life in the Pacific and Europe at a time not all that long before I was born. And yes, that silent prayer for thanking them for their service? I said a lot of those!

  3. I was struck by your comment about your friend Pat, who continues to educate about “those days”.

    We’re losing our historical memory, and the values that were associated with those years are eroding away, too. I’m not sure I like what our nation is becoming, and helping to keep those memories alive is one way to stand against the tide.

  4. It’s true. The men who fight our wars are always so very young. When I look at photos of my husband in Vietnam, I can hardly believe how young he was.

    I do believe the outstanding characteristic of the WWII generation was duty. They had such a sense of duty, and we owe them a great deal.

    Wonderful post, Becca.

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