Well, It Was the War


On Veteran’s Day, which was yesterday, people my age like to mention their fathers’ service. You’ll hear a lot of stories about where dads served during World War II. I found out that one friend’s father served in Her Majesty’s Royal Engineers and Mechanics Corp after escaping Hitler’s Germany with his Jewish bride.

I’m embarrassed to say that I grew up thinking that my dad was in charge of drinking beer on a beach with a towel wrapped around his waist during World War II.

That and standing around laughing with his arms around his Army buddies. That’s what all the photo evidence suggested. The only picture of my dad not dying of happy laughter is one of him sitting on a Jeep with a kitten on his shoulder. He may have spent his more serious moments rescuing pets. The photos all pointed to World War II being one big party.

We know, now, that being a soldier is insane, it’s so hard and so dangerous and takes more courage and chutzpah and loyalty and heart than we civilians can ever imagine. But that picture didn’t start to come into view until Viet Nam. Vets the Viet Nam War, the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War came home to a country that understood how serious their job was. WWII vets, however, came home with stories of how swell it was, and how all the dames were the cat’s meow.

No homesickness, no PTSD, no crappy food, no angry Germans, no scary helicopter rides.

The movies, as well as my mom, did nothing to take the glamour out of those shots.

“It was different. It was the war,” my mom used to say whenever we would point out something of that era that didn’t seem right. The war was an excuse for everything. It also turned every situation into a rose-colored la-la land.

Who is this lady Daddy is kissing against a brick wall in this picture?

“Some girl in Ireland. It was during the war.” (Therefore, it wasn’t slutty. It was adventurous.)

Aunt Annamae said that you two used to go down to the train station to kiss soldiers? You actually kissed strange men? On the mouth?

“Eh, it was the war.” (Therefore, kissing strangers wasn’t loose, it was patriotic.)

You dropped out of high school? You and Dad got married after only a couple of dates?

“The war. It was the war.”

Why did all of you smoke back then?

“What part of ‘it was the war’ don’t you understand?” (It wasn’t wrong, it was . . . it was . . . well, it was just the war.)

A girl I knew in college told me her father suffered from depression for more than 30 years after returning home from  serving overseas in the ‘40s. “Depression? I didn’t think people got that back then,” I said. What was there to be depressed about? Wasn’t there Benny Goodman music playing in the background everywhere?

He should have found my dad. I’m pretty sure there was more than enough beer to go around.

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