Saturday, August 10, 2013

Growing Up with WWII

I was born after the Second World War but much of my childhood was awash with it.

Television, movies, and comic books were still fighting the Nazis and the Japanese - for the most part, the Italians got a pass - and this conflicted, of course, with the newspaper articles in which the Japanese and the West Germans.had been redeemed.

Veterans of the war were aplenty in those days. We even had a German Navy veteran living across our street; his obituary would cryptically note that he was a "submariner" in the war and tactfully omit for which side. His wife was French and was capable of telling chilling stories about the Gestapo. Once, in an aside, she mentioned that after the war her father had insisted on checking on whether her husband-to-be had an SS tattoo or a suspicious scar where the tattoo was normally placed. Their story was a novel.

I still have a vicious-looking commando knife, complete with brass knuckles, that another neighbor gave me. An American Navy vet who'd served in the Pacific, he laughed and said he'd won it in a card game. He probably did.

Our elementary school principal was shot down over Germany and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp. The book, Von Ryan's Express, is dedicated to him. I wish I could talk with him today, but he passed away a good 20 years ago. The World War II veterans have been dying off for years as have the veterans of the Korean War and each day - pop, pop, pop - their stories are lost.

Perhaps since we were drenched in World War II tales and once encountered these people on an almost daily basis, we didn't recognize that we were chatting about mundane topics with history-makers who carried very rich memories of extraordinary events.

History surrounds us and it is easily lost.

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