« Why I need maps in fantasy novels | Main | AI and the killer joke »

November 11, 2017


My dad was in Germany in WWII. He got there late, mostly because the Army kept sending him hither and yon for additional training, and he was proud of the fact that he never shot at anyone and nobody ever shot at him.

To hear him tell it, the closest he came to combat was fishing a Luger out of a pile of guns relinquished by surrendering soldiers as a souvenir—just about everyone else in his Company who wasn't busy was doing the same—working the slide and having the thing fire a round that wasn't supposed to be in the chamber. He carefully placed the pistol back on the pile and decided he didn't need a souvenir that badly, after all.

I have no idea how much of his narrative was actually true. I could poke around in old Army records, and maybe someday I will, but the tales he told fit the man I knew. For now, I am content with those.

Excellent, Russell.

RIP Andy Olmsted.

Rachel Kathleen Parker

My family got thru WW II pretty easily.

My Dad was supposed to be draft exempt because he was working in a war-critical position at GE. But the paperwork got messed up. He ended up in cryptography, and an officer. The way he used to put it was "I spent WW II hitting beaches in the Pacific: Santa Monica, Waikiki, etc." (He was commanding the crypto unit at the Presidio in SF when he met my mother.) Nowhere near combat; nothing more onerous than a posting on Johnson Island.

My father-in-law joined the Army in the 30s, to get out of working in the family flower business. He was a sergeant when the war started -- and Army had a problem figuring out what to do with the Japanese American in their midst. He ended up part of the cadre for the 442nd, fighting their way thru Italy and on to Germany. (He was in charge of the motor pool, and suggested, without ever quite saying so, that that meant he wasn't in a position to get shot at.) About the only story he would tell was how they got to Rome . . . and had to sit for 2 days, until a white unit could catch up, and be the one to "liberate Rome."

RIP both.

Father:New Guinea and Saipan
Uncle:Tanker in N Africa
Uncle:Turret Gunner outa Italy
Uncle:Chaplain in Normandy
Younger uncle: doctor in 50s Germany
Friend:5'0" and 90 lbs = tunnel rat
Friend:sapper, disarmed and laid mines
Friend:Entered Hue during Tet

Those three got kinda broken for a few years

Friend:infantry outside Hue I think, he was in awe of the other guy
Friend: quartermaster corps or whatever in Saigon

If the tunnel rat guy looks to be below army minimums, I just remember him as very skinny and small. Whereas the others came back withdrawn, he came back kinda evil.

I was living in this big ole twenties house as fall guy, cause lazy and anti-social. Partner had the car would go make sales, send them to me and the three refrigerators. Had a pump shotgun, but only had to point at it once.

Hot school day, tunnel rat 24ish comes by with a 13-yr-old looked younger, asked to use a bedroom. I said I don't think so. He was always packing and there were rumors about income sources. He musta smiled at me for almost an hour before they left.

She looked astonished and confused. Later I heard she spent the summer with him. What family she had (half the males were in prison) didn't think it worthwhile to confront.

wj, you might be interested in

Oral interviews with veterans of the 442

My dad was in a sweet spot, he was too young to enlist for WWII, and he had entered university just before Korea started, and hence avoided being drafted. Two of his older brothers did get drafted, one served in the states, the other served in Korea and was wounded in the retreat from the Chinese border. Waiting to be evacuated, he heard the person in charge say 'don't worry about the gook, he can go last' and let loose a stream of expletives that convinced the guy that he was not Korean but American. He passed away last year.

An interesting post about the etymology of gook.

On my mother's (English) side, my grandfather served in the Black Watch in WWI, he died when I was 8 so I had no opportunity to talk to him about that, but I have to think his experiences damaged him. He had a mean temper and drank a lot. When the call up for the Old Guard came after Dunkirk, his son, (my step-uncle who was all of 16 and had the same name as him), was given the call up notice and told that he had to report because my grandad was through with that nonsense. My uncle said he was with all the WWI vets and they bought him his first Guinness. He went on to fly Liberators out of the Bahamas on U-boat spotting duty. He ended up having a collapsed lung and the cavity filled with blood so he was the recipient of one of the early pneumonectomy. He passed away last year as well. RIP

Bob, your 3:49pm sounds like a character sketch right out of a Denis Johnson short story.

Derrick Dean Taylor

My dad served as a pilot over Normandy. Later he was career Air Force. Every man I knew, as a kid, was a WWII vet.

My dad was a complicated but incredibly good man. He wasn't always nice. I'm pretty sure the Nazis didn't like him at all. Maybe he taught me hate [to hate Nazis].

I'm glad the WWII vets I knew are not seeing what I'm seeing now. I wish I had their advice though.

Oh, I do!

My father and uncles were all in the Pacific during WWII. My father thought he went to the Pacific because of his germanic surname. That the Bund was popular before that war in his area makes suspicion seem plausible now, but he was aggrieved. He rarely said anything about his experience. I learned later from my own experience that the talkers are rarely the ones with much of value to talk about.

Both my grandfathers were drafted in WWI. One never left CONUS because of a pandemic quarantine. The other I know nothing about. During my childhood older boys had to deal with the draft when they hit 18, so my turn came as no surprise. We working-class boys grew up knowing we would serve when our turn came. Only later I saw that was not the case for wealthier boys.

When I was inducted in 1967 the war was still supported by most Americans. That changed by the time I had orders for Vietnam. By the time I came back things had changed even more. If I wanted to get along I was supposed to keep quiet about what I saw. When my father asked me about my experience, he said I should be in prison for treason because of what I said. I had not wanted to go, but because I did anyway I was either a traitor or a war criminal depending on who was asking.

The current sanctimony about supporting "the troops" is a "do over" for the way my generation was treated. I don't begrudge service members for any support, but I fault the general population for its perfidy in how our military are used. The current form of economic conscription (AKA the volunteer force) is a pernicious thing for a democratic society. Not enough of the right people now care how we use the military.

Hi Nick,

What year was your dad born?

I'm not sure I agree about the volunteer military, but I'm close.

sapient: 1923

Much of the professional officer corps prefer economic conscription. As we've heard from the draft-dodger-in-chief recently, volunteers know what they signed up for. Draftees used to have an unfortunate expectation that they had rights as citizens. Even worse, well-connected draftees could sometimes get help from a member of Congress.

The draft had problems. It was not administered fairly. The claim later by a Quayle and a Bush that they simply showed up at a Guard office and got an appointment without any influence is something few American men my age believe. Many of my comrades in basic training were on National Guard waiting lists. We all knew you didn't get to the top of those lists without influence.

The draft was bad, but the fix has been worse. All social strata should be equally liable for service or none should be. While the elite have no skin in the game not enough care is taken in what scrapes they put us in.

I think it depends on who you think the volunteer force is.

I think it is mostly the ' middle class.'

Recruiting in poor areas is very difficult because they don't meet requirements for enlistment. My nephew has recently joined because of the benefits for college and beyond. He has options but it makes sense for him. He was born to a veteran and his grandfather was also a veteran, so that self selection is certainly a factor.

The Soldiers I work with are generally well compensated, have a pension, are well educated and have options. Many come back to the military after leaving because they like it better (including me).

So I would agree that the volunteer force creates risk of a military class, and that reduces the cost to decision makers on war. But at the same time the Army is specifically designed to need the Guard and Reserve to fight. We do go to war with our communities.

While the Army may need to "go to war with our communities", I am less than confident that our politicians realize that. I get the impression (not sure I can put my finger on what it is based on) that they tend to think of the military as "poor kids who would just be in gangs otherwise" -- i.e. not "our kind of people." Which goes double for those, like Trump, who dodged the draft back when it existed.

Trump is an outlier. Congressmen see more deployments from the Guard and Reserve than anybody else. They almost always show up for deployments and returns. Even if that is completely cynical, they see the Soldiers from their districts, and their families.

It is the rest of the population that is out of touch with the costs.

my dad was too young for wwii but his cousin, my first cousin once removed, bob was old enough to be a bombardier in a b-17. one day they were hustled out of bed to do a raid in germany. he had a hangover and wanted a cold beer. as they were approaching the target they got hit and lost an engine. the pilot broke formation and turned back. bob thought to himself, "you dumb son-of-a-bitch, the only thing protecting us is the formation. within ten minutes they had been hit by two mescherschmidts and were going down. it was three years before he got that cold beer. he parachuted to safety and was caught but at the time goering had enough pull to protect the airmen who were captured and he had as good of an imprisonment as was possible for a p.o.w. in germany. i miss him so much, he was a realistic and liberal man who knew enough about war to find america's war policies to be stupid.

The comments to this entry are closed.