I was born during World War II and raised in its aftermath, which included playing dawn-to-dusk war games with U.S. Army surplus helmets, ammo boxes, and dummy grenades, as well as several bags of toy soldiers and tanks that Larry Dennison and I would position in the dirt battlefields we created in the empty lot next door, only to destroy them with firecrackers at dusk and then head inside to listen to “The Shadow” on his family’s radio, which was as big as their ice box. And I do mean an insulated box cooled by a block of ice delivered at regular intervals by the Capitol Ice Company.
I was described by my teachers as “shy and quiet.” In fact, if you tallied up all the words I spoke back then, the most common phrase would have been “ack-ack-ack,” my version of the sound made by a machine gun. I lived and breathed World War II, but had no idea what the war was actually like until many years later, when I read Slaughterhouse Five.
Until then, my father provided me with his running commentary on the war, pointing out the difference between fake and “actual footage” of battles. My father was 33 when the war began, and ineligible to serve because of a recent nervous breakdown. Still, he considered himself an expert on the war, I guess from reading newspapers and the like.
And his “expertise” got me into big trouble at school. As I learned to my great embarrassment, my father had trouble pronouncing certain words, which I unwittingly copied. So when my teacher asked the class how we had been able to defeat the evil Nazis, my hand shot up with the answer.
“We dropped bums on Germany, that’s how.”