What will it take to place our every day challenges, our pedestrian setbacks, our petty frustrations, in the proper perspective?
We know, intellectually, that we have it good, better than we have any right to expect.
We are secure in our homes, living in communities that are generally safe, free from the threat of imminent violence.
Scarcity does not exist, at least for us. We visit stores with stocked shelves, and none of us, unless we are about 70 or 80 years old, have ever experienced food rationing or medicine shortages, at least not for an extended period of time.
If we get sick, or injured, medical care is available, insured or not.
Some people get it. I know that, because I have met them. They walked the track at Relay for Life in August. They donate to our food pantries, or volunteer in them. They work with veterans, counsel the drug-addicted, open and maintain homeless shelters, collect supplies for school children, ring a bell in front of stores during the holidays.
Some people run into burning buildings on cold winter nights, when the less inclined, the majority really, run in the other direction.
They volunteer for our armed forces. As the never-ending "War on Terror" continues, they sacrifice, along with their families, while the rest of us are asked to contribute little, if anything.
And yet, some of us seem unwilling to acknowledge our extraordinary good fortune. At least we don't, until it hits us over the head, two-by-four-like.
The Arkport Heroine
Old timers may remember Second Lt. Eunice F. Young. She was a popular public speaker in the first years after World War II, traveling throughout the Canisteo Valley, sharing her extraordinary story at VFW halls, schools and churches. Last year was the 100th anniversary of Young's birth in 1913, to James and Florence Young, of North Hill Road, Almond.
Eunice attended Arkport Central School, graduating on June 24, 1930, according to author Dorothy J. Dunham's new book, "Eunice F. Young, Arkport Heroine, American Heroine."
Dunham's slim but fascinating volume is part of the Hornell Public Library's new World War II reference collection.
For a more complete chronology of Young's life, please visit the library and read Dunham's story. To summarize very briefly, Dunham tells of Young attending nursing school in Arizona following her graduation from Arkport. In 1939, Young enlisted as a U.S. Army nurse, and was eventually sent to the South Pacific, into the middle of war with Imperial Japan.
In the fall of 1942, Young was working as a Army operating room nurse at Corregidor Island, Manila Bay, Philippine Islands. The Battle of Bataan saw the Japanese conquer the Philippines, and Young was captured, along with 56 other nurses and 50 doctors.
Young was a prisoner of war from the autumn of 1942 until liberation by American forces on Feb. 3, 1945 following the Battle of Manila. During their captivity, the American nurses were held and worked at a civilian prisoner of war hospital camp — Santo Tomas, a former university campus, in the heart of Manila.
Dunham uses two primary sources to describe Young's years in captivity. One is an article she wrote for the Saturday Evening Post in 1945. The other is a diary, written on a small spiral pad, that survived the war, and eventually came into the possession of Young's brother, Clarence.
Young, in the early entries of 1942, lists books she has read, and she mentions a radio drama that the prisoners are permitted to listen in on. As conditions change, Dunham notes, so do Young's entries.
"I hear that they have radios and telephones outside these walls — sure would like to see one," she jokes.
She writes about the scarcity of water and the rationing of cigarettes, soap and toilet paper. Camp conditions include constant blackouts and air raids, bedbugs, and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Prisoners are beset by dysentery, and in the aftermath of typhoons, often find themselves working in knee-deep water.
She writes: "This can't go on forever, can it? Something has to happen sometime — why not now?"
But then she adds: "We wish for many things, but (we) shouldn't, when the military prisoners have nothing!"
She notes an important milestone, the war's two-year mark, on Dec. 8, 1943.
"Two years ago today, we were at war with Japan. If anyone had told me that day, that I would be here in this camp, on this day, I would not have believed it."
And on July 2, 1944 she writes: "Two years ago today, we came here from Corregidor, a sick, tired and starved group of nurses. Today, we may not look too great, but we feel 100 percent better in health. I am beginning to have many grey hairs. Whether from camp life or old age, I won't say. It has been 2 1/2 years since we have drawn a paycheck. Wonder how it would seem to have money."
Major Maude Davidson, was the chief nurse at Corregidor and remained in the position at the civilian hospital. Her leadership was essential.
In their last six months of captivity, the prisoners were starving. Breakfast was "watery gruel" and a later meal in the day would be rice. Nothing else.
"Food is our main topic of conversation," Young wrote.
She volunteered for night duty, a 12 hour shift, relieved to have the crowded nurses' quarters essentially to herself during the day, when most nurses worked.
She endured the constant propaganda: That the Americans were losing the war, that the U.S. military leadership was in tatters.
And through it all, this extraordinary daughter of Steuben County, never lost her humanity, or her sense of humor. Her diary notes that in March of 1944, the prisoners were allowed to receive their one and only personal packages from home.
"Excitement in camp. Personal package from home given out. How good to receive them. I had a bathing suit in mine. I guess my mother thinks I'm vacationing."
Young's diary ends, abruptly, on Dec. 14, 1945. We know she survived, eventually returning to the United States and to Arkport, as a hero.
Young's years after the war, included many more accomplishments, and she lived a long life, passing away in 1995. She is buried in Arkport Cemetery. A simple stone marks the grave.
Visit the cemetery, if you like, but Young's most fitting memorial are her words; speaking to us across the decades, describing, sometimes casually, an ordeal no one should be required to experience. Her courage, her compassion and her unwavering spirit, are why she and the other nurses captured and imprisoned by the Japanese are remembered as the Angels of Bataan.
Neal Simon is the city editor of The Evening Tribune.