Each year, Christmas card includes reminder
It was a bittersweet day for Marion McBrien.
And McBrien remembers that day -- Dec. 7, 1941, now 65 years ago -- well.
A Basehor resident for 41 years, his house is full of trinkets and antiques left behind by his wife, Mary, who died about 15 months ago.
"All of these cabinets are full," McBrien said gesturing to the kitchen. "She collected everything."
But if it weren't for Mary's collections, perhaps McBrien would have never found an important piece of his past. Among old photos of his many Ford vehicles, the couple's marriage license dated Jan. 1, 1941, and family portraits, a tattered card shows that McBrien was sent a Notice of Classification for the military draft on Nov. 28, 1941. While he said he didn't give it much thought at the time, he now realizes that the card was sent a mere nine days before Pearl Harbor was attacked.
"People tell me that I'm the only one they know that still has one of these," McBrien said, holding up the card. "They knew something was coming up. Washington, D.C., knew."
McBrien picked up a Christmas card sent just a few days ago from one of his old friends, Louise. He said she sends him one every year and every year she mentions that memorable day in 1941.
As newlyweds, Marion and Mary lived in Kansas City, Kan. A 21-year-old Marion was making $.26 cents an hour making wire-bound boxes at General Box Company and the couple was expecting their first child later that month. The McBriens had invited another couple, Matt and Louise Nick, to go squirrel hunting with them. The four of them piled into Marion's 1936 two-door Ford sedan and headed out in the cold drizzling rain to Lenape, just north across the Kansas River from De Soto. McBrien said the weather didn't stop them from having a wonderful day. A one point, McBrien said he shot a squirrel and it ran into a hole in a tree.
"My hand was too big to fit in the hole," McBrien said. "Mary had these small, dainty hands and I had to beg her to reach in there and get that squirrel. She said, 'Oh no, I can't do that.'"
McBrien finally convinced her and lifted a very pregnant Mary up so she could reach her hand into the tree to retrieve the squirrel.
As the couples were driving back to Kansas City with their bounty of 26 squirrels, they heard some horrifying news.
"We turned on the original Ford radio and heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor," McBrien said. "It was quite a shock because we never knew anything was going on."
The Notice of Classification card that McBrien received a week and a half earlier didn't cross his mind until some time in 1943, when he was sent another notice to appear for an exam. He said that while his four friends he went with to the exam were raring to fight in the war, he was not.
"I didn't want to go," he said. "I can't say I was scared. I just didn't want to go."
All four of his friends passed the exam and were sent home, but McBrien said he had to stay overnight.
"They kept running me through the X-ray machine and then they rejected me," he said. "I was born with a narrowed spine. I was a farm boy and I had back problems."
While McBrien didn't have to go to war, he said he remembers a tight-knit country coming together to help one another during World War II. While McBrien helped construct Sunflower Ammunition Plant, Mary worked in powder production at Hercules Powder Company.
"When things started getting all organized," he said, "I worried about the people I knew who went to fight the war."
While his two brothers came back from the war, injured by shrapnel, two out of his four friends never returned.
McBrien will turn 87 next month. He said that with all the memories from his long life, he could write a book. But, none of his memories is quite as vivid as that cold, drizzly day, Dec. 7, 1941.
"I can just picture it," he said. "I'm glad my memory is still half decent. My friends say, 'Marion, when you're gone, there's going to be a lot of things we're not going to know.'"
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