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Those Were the Years, My Friend


For years I listened to my mother talk of World War II with great fondness, but had trouble understanding why she seemed to treasure those years. In my mind, she was romanticizing a time defined by the Holocaust.

After seeing singer Andrea Marcovicci at Center Stage, where she performed her show "Love Songs From World War II," I think I have a better idea of why my mother recalls the war years with such longing.

She was in her late teens in Glasgow, Scotland, volunteering with her girlfriends as a hostess at the American Red Cross off-duty center, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and serving Coke to homesick American soldiers. She cried when her male relatives and friends went off to war, and naturally she grieved when some didn't return.

But for a young woman the war also meant young, handsome soldiers from foreign countries, wonderful movies and of course, the music.

The popular entertainment of the day helped to create a heightened sense of heroism and romanticism surrounding the war. How could you not be carried away by movies like "Casablanca" and songs like "As Time Goes By?"

"People are nostalgic about the war even if they didn't fight," Ms. Marcovicci said during her performance. "When we loved, we loved with this sense of passion because of the fragility of it."

In her show, Ms. Marcovicci traces the musical journey of a World War II couple through songs from 1939 to 1945. There was the romantic meeting, the separation, the waiting -- and, if the story had a happy ending, the reunion. World War II veterans and people who lived through the war hear songs like "The Last Time I Saw Paris," and "We'll Meet Again," and are able to filter the pain of war through a prism of irresistible music and lyrics.

"We danced to all that music; it was really our romance and the music always brings it back," said Mary Markey, 75, who attended Ms. Marcovicci's concert with her husband, Andrew J. Markey, 77, a World War II veteran. The couple met at a dance at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Tony Brozena, 82, who served in the Philippines during World War II, said the songs helped to remove him from the "drudgery of war. . . . It brought back a lot of pleasant memories, but there was a lot of loneliness and homesickness."

I watched my mother begin to cry when Ms. Marcovicci sang "I'll be Seeing You." Her memories of jitterbugging and boyfriends must have been interrupted by thoughts of people she never did see again. But she loved the moment. It took her back to what she calls the "best and worst time of her life."

My mother isn't alone in wanting to recapture the painful beautof the period for a short while. Rosemary Brozena, 71, also looks back on the war years when she was caught up in a sweep of patriotism and excitement. "For me it was sort of a fun time," she said. "I was just out of high school and working at an air force base. I lost classmates [in the war] but when I hear those songs I think of the good times."

OC Jackie Powder is a reporter in The Sun's Carroll County Bureau.

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