[February 6, 2022] I didn’t know it at the time, but I grew up privileged. As a young boy, my privilege was being in the company of combat veterans from World War II and the Korean War. They were everywhere; being salesmen, pumping gas, farming, raising dairy cows,1 all holding down ordinary jobs you could find in a small town back in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Yes, I was privileged. Many in my family were also combat veterans of these wars. I saw the photographs and, on occasion, some of these men would tell me hair-raising stories about what they saw and did. Being a little kid at the time, having young men sit down with me to talk was, in itself, unusual. Looking back, I guess that there should be no surprise these veterans wanted to talk to someone about their experiences who wouldn’t judge them harshly.
My mouth was open as they would tell me how they were wounded or saw a buddy die or how the enemy (German, Japanese, or Chinese soldiers) would attack. And who were the “better” enemy soldiers? They talked about fear and how you could never predict when fear would sneak up on you, like an enemy in the dark, and suddenly have you in its grasp. That scared me, and I remember. How could I ever forget?
We attended church at the Mer Rouge Baptist Church every Sunday morning, located just a block from the one-block main street. These young men would often sit together, or if they had kids, they sat with their families. I always wondered why they sat together. And I also wondered why our preacher spent so much time before the morning service talking with them. Sometimes a kid’s questions are never answered. I figured it out later.
It’s true that they taught me that war is not glamorous, fun, or something you would want to do. I learned about the human element in war, which affects us differently and unpredictably. It brings out the best and worst in humans. And that war is unimaginably horrific. To me, these men were real live heroes I could see and hear; right in front of me.2
These young me are now very old, or they have passed away. I hope that I wasn’t the only one listening to them speak of their combat experiences. Otherwise, their stories will be lost forever.
- A few years ago, I wrote about a neighbor called Mr. Simons. He owned a dairy farm and hired me to do some odd jobs. He was a combat veteran of WWII. Just another unexpected privilege growing up in America. https://www.theleadermaker.com/leadership-and-milking-the-cow/
Please read my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).