World War II

A Child's Crusade

... the innocence of childhood, an introduction to war.

by Brian K. Simm

World War II started, as it did for most of my friends, on a sunny cold December afternoon. Until that moment the world had been at peace. We had never heard of, or at least were only vaguely aware of things like ghettos, pogroms, Warsaw, Panzers, London subways and tiger tanks. People and places like Il Duce, Hitler, Stalin, Tojo, Churchill, De Gaulle, Pearl Harbor, Dunkirk - even Japan - did not even enter into our thoughts. They did not exist. After all, our parents and grandparents had fought the war to end all wars. The world was at peace.

December 7, 1941. God, how I hated winter. I had skated all morning in Melrose with my cousins, the Warings. My feet were frozen. My nose was frozen. My hands. Everything. I climbed the back stairs to my Grandparents' house where I was living. It would be nice and warm and I could thaw out and listen to the "Shadow" and the "Lone Ranger". A blast of warm air hit me as I stepped into the kitchen. It was delicious.

It was the only time in my life that I ever saw tears in Grandpa?s eyes. Somewhere in the house a radio was on saying strange things - "Dastardly, Infamy, State of War, unprovoked, Pearl Harbor". Something very bad was happening somewhere.

 Brian, always quite at home in the wilderness, would go on to study forestry at the University of Maine. This photo was taken about 1945 -- and that is not a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

From that time on it was a  beautiful war. Doolittle was bombing the hell out of a place called Tokyo. The Russians were running all over a place called the "Easter Front" and Grandpa was running the Selective Service board, and as far as I knew, for the whole world. We collected rancid bacon fat and bought ten cent savings stamps. We had brown-outs and black-outs and  saved scrap to shoot the Jap (whoever that was). Grandma knitted helmet liners for the GI?s, whatever they were. We had air raid drills at school where we had to lay on the cement floor in the basement and the girls were told to  keep their legs crossed. Things were rationed (whatever that was) and we went to special stores that didn?t take stamps and sold a type of goods that was called  Black Market?.

Grandpa decided that a man was to be drafted who had a wife who, they said, could not walk. She learned to walk. He went to a place called Saipan. She hung a pretty gold star in her window and he came home in a rubber bag. The newspapers were starting to publish pictures of dead people. No one had ever died up to that point. This was getting serious.

The Scouts spent weekends collecting newspapers and magazines. Separating out the Girlie ones and hiding them under their beds. The rest were loaded onto railroad box cars and spent the duration on the siding in Melrose. They may be still there for all I know.

The adults gave blood. We went to Red Cross dances. The boys on one side of the hall. The girls on the other. Junior high kids were still virgins in those days.  Crack was what happened to sidewalks.  Aids helped the teachers and  Gay was a happy feeling. Four letter words weren?t allowed in the house and the Combat Zone was in a place called Europe. Cope books hadn?t been written. Darwin was still being debated and girls wore skirts to dances.

Then along came a weapon called an Atomic Bomb. It was a super thing that was going to end all this. Just in time too. The whole war was starting to get somewhat boring, not to mention a little more serious. It was no longer a  Beautiful War. We had friends who had gone into this thing and might just not be coming back.

Suddenly it was all over. There were ticker tape parades, babies, veterans benefits, housing developments and a Brave New World.

We, all of us, lived through World War II.

November 1998

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