I mentioned Pearl Harbor Day to some coworkers today. Most had no real idea what I was talking about. Hipsters. They know pearl necklaces, they don't know Pearl Harbor. Well it was a perfidious thing, I said, and they dutifully Googled "perfidious."
This got me to thinking again about what the Senator had done in the Big One. I don't know, precisely. No one will. That generation wore their PTSD on their livers instead of their sleeves. Not saying that's better, it just is what it was. I know this:
He shaved four months off his age and enlisted two months before graduating high school. After basic he ended up in an intelligence company based in Gander, Newfoundland. But first he went to jump school at Ft. Benning. Because he was going to be jumping into Greenland.
I found 82nd Airborne patches in his military stash after he died. My best guess is he was embedded with an 82nd class at Benning. Pretended to be 82nd for his ultimate billet. Because as far as I know Benning was (is?) the only jump school. But what records I have do not indicate he was ever an All-American.
What he did was jump into Greenland at intervals and knock out German weather stations. Radio shacks. Greenland was by international convention neutral territory during WWII. But the Nazis needed weather stations as far west as possible for the U-boat wolfpacks, and they weren't going to be building them in Anne of Green Gables' backyard. Hence Greenland. It was remote, isolated, a few hours west of Norway. They weren't supposed to be there, and neither were we. But he told us he hunted them down.
He never mentioned killing anyone. Only that the first German he saw was when he crested a snow drift and came face to face with a Kraut about his age. 18. They sized each other up, and both slowly backed away. The mutual unspoken agreement was we never saw each other, and we're both pissing ourselves in fear. This extremely rational meeting of the minds was interrupted when the Senator's sergeant crested the snow drift, and blasted the kid.
From there I only heard vague tales of grenading radio shacks and shooting polar bears. The bears were shot to feed the dogsled teams. The dogs had real meat. Because they were more valuable than the GIs. The soldiers had canned reserve rations stamped 1917. They fed the bear to the dogs, they ate the dog food, and they tossed the reserve rations. Circle of life.
After a year of this glorious living the Senator was sent to Officer Candidate School. Back to Benning. I'm not sure how a 19-year-old high school drop-out with a year of service earned a slot at OCS. Some college grad boy, or some long-time veteran, perhaps, got screwed. In the middle of an existential death struggle. I can only surmise a drop-out gets bumped to the head of the class for doing very special things. And in Greenland that could only mean killin'. And I don't mean polar bears.
To pu this in perspective, my father's older brother, with two exemplary years in the Army Air Corps, had only risen to the rank of PFC. And by all accounts Uncle Bob was a hoss.
At any rate, Pearl Harbor Day is the day Americans shot their cuffs, hiked their britches, snapped their suspenders, and decided to rule the world. The day before we were isolationist goobers. Half-starved sweet potato gnawers, vendors of wormholed apples. The day after we were a mighty juggernaut in the making. Builders of battleships and tanks and aeroplanes, slaughterers of livestock, creators of steel and aluminium. We planted Victory gardens in our backyards, and bayonets in the bad guys' bellies. We were never the same people again.
To close, the Senator never saw a Japanese person until he was a JAG officer in Tokyo during the Korean War. At that point, five years after the war, they were still a starving, scavenging, pathetic race of people. Much as we were in 1940. His letters home indicate no malice toward the Japanese at that point. A certain sadness, mos def.
When you've seen enough, I suppose you've seen enough.