What my WWII veteran father had done in the war and what the war had done to him was never clear.
The torch had been passed to a new generation, President John Kennedy told us, and passed directly into the hands of those who had been soldiers in the Second World War, men like JFK himself and my father and his friends. Most of the suburban balding men I grew up with had returned triumphant to confetti and parades from the greatest of all wars, WWII.
Like most men of Dad’s generation, silence was a heroic virtue. Just like the memories of the war hung in the far recesses of his mind, so in the recesses of the stuffy attic hung his army dress jacket reeking of moth balls covered with mysterious bars and ribbons, the only tangible evidence that he had actually been in the war.
Every year on Veterans day Dad would bring down the jacket to try on, a yearly reminder of a past life we had no part of.
In 1942, my father had been drafted and eventually deployed to the South Pacific.
He had wanted to go to Europe to knock out the Nazis but got sent to the exotic locale of New Guinea instead. I assumed that was a stroke of luck because he always made his experience in the Pacific Theater sound more like some Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour “On the Road” movie than an episode of Combat.
Despite the bloody battle of Biak which was occurring while he was there, it sounded to me like they were always busy chasing exotic local girls dressed in sarongs, or firing off zingers to one another instead of being ambushed by some Japs hidden in a pillbox.
Post War Adjustment
Whatever private battles these returning vets fought, they went into some underground bunker never to resurface.
Though of course there was a fuss for the returning GIs in 1945, Americans were told in numerous magazine articles that the GI “suffered no ill effects.”
“All the ex GI’s believed war brought out the best in a man. Most men came out of battle pretty much the same way they went in- and surprisingly many of those who are affected the change is for the better. Once his nerves snap back into place, it’ll be as if he never made the trip at all.”