I have a heartbreakingly young photograph of my Polish grandfather in his midshipman white Navy uniform. The original has an inscription on the back to my grandmother, my photo is a copy. My grandparents lived in San Diego for a while where my grandfather had been stationed. He used to say my mother was picking up Spanish at school on the base. They later settled down in their mutual home town. My maternal grandmother was born in 1927, at 19 she had my mother right after WWII in 1946. I was born in 1964 when my mother was 18 years old. She was pregnant with me when Kennedy was shot. I didn't grow up with WWII parents, rather WWII grandparents. My grandfather was in the Navy and went to both WWII and the subsequent Korean War which the television series M.A.S.H. is based on, although also considered a parady of the Vietnam war. My grandfather loved Hogan's Heros and often did immitations of Schultz and Colonel Klink. He didn't seem to care about Allen Alda's charming antics, like my parents did.
My grandfather had a several romantic photos taken while he was dressed his Navy uniform. I remember one were he is sitting on a camel with the pyramids in the background. I remember some small detail, him mentioning he had spent a winter in on a slow barge docked at a Russian port. An imaginary picture in my head as a result of this utterance, were he was standing on a pier with a huge fur hat and looking stiff with cold. They couldn't keep up with the other ships so spent the winter until it was less dangerous. I remember him saying something like "sitting duck". The other grandfather on my dad's side of the family had been seriously injured in France and had a multiple hip replacements and walked with difficulty as a result. I haven't seen many photos of him as a young man. I have heard scant specific war stories from either. The veterans parades and the VFW clubhouses weren't connected to their experience for me yet. We watched the movie "White Christmas" each year not noticing that it was film to support WWII.
My grandmother had an intricately detailed book case with these very pretty small gilt covered red encylopedias. Running a soft cloth over something you have grown familiar falls between an annoyance and a satisfaction. On it were several delightful deep maroon colored carvings that my grandfather had brought back with him from Japan. A bug eyed coi and a fat budha leaning on a cane. Handling the objects each week and looking up at my grandfather's photos they had a high spirited quality. No sense of placing those photos in the context of WWII. He loved French girls names. He smoked Pal Mal as a joke. In gradeschool our history books were out of date and simplistic. I remember while helping cover them for the next years class, the book fell open. Trying to be funny I read out loud in a contrived news persons voice to make the teacher laugh. It read "soon we too will be able to walk on the moon". I think was about 1972? The WWII section was full of photos of victory parades and men in full military dress. It all looked so cheerful. When we prayed we prayed for the poor or the sick.
I read constantly and could read at a young age, very little history, mostly novels written for children with an occassional adult novel I found around the house. Libraries have not really played a big part of my reading experience. The very first thing I remember reading was the word "and" throughout a newspaper on the kitchen table; I might have been younger than three years old. Somebody to keep me busy had told me they would give me a nickel for every "and" I circled. The reason I mention it is that I have few memories of speaking about, reading about or learning about WWII, until a teenager in the late 1970's and early 80's. Other than those curios on the shelf. My Polish grandfathers photos and my Dutch grandfathers limping walk. To be honest I think they wanted to get on with their lives and the community around them supported this. When I was in highschool I had an exceptional history teacher who had been educated at Stanford and ultimately got her PhD at the local university. I had her for two lucky years. I had taken an interest in history as a teenager and in recent years read a series by Tony Jundt an academic writer on WWII.