Veterans’ Day II

This is the first Veterans’ Day without my dad. He didn’t talk about it until he knew he was dying, and even then he didn’t say much. Smart-ass street kids from the Bronx without high school diplomas did not go to OCS. Usually, they were assigned to the infantry, but since he had volunteered for the Army Air Corps, they did the next best thing: they made him a ball turret gunner in a B-24. He was sent to the China-Burma-India theater on a troop ship to Calcutta (Kolkata), then flew over the hump to Chungking (Chongqing). In the hospital, he said a few words about being hauled out of the turret by his crew-mates before the plane bellied into a swamp, said a little about shooting at Japanese fighter planes and being shot at, talked a bit about flak, and mentioned strafing runs on Japanese trains, much too close to the ground. The only exit from the B-24 was at the rear of the plane, which was bad enough, but since he could not wear a parachute harness in the turret, let alone the parachute itself, his situation was essentially binary.

He must have been pretty good at it, though, because they promoted him and brought him back as a gunnery instructor. Nevertheless, he says he hated every minute of every day of the war. That may have saved his life, because they were offering early discharges to anyone who would sign up for the reserves; but he had decided that once he was done, he was done. It was 30 years before he would get on another airplane. As he said later, it was much nicer when no one was trying to kill him. The guys who took that offer went to Korea a few years later. Instead, Dad came back to the states to serve out his full enlistment, weighing 135 lbs., bright yellow from the malaria drugs, and bearing a heartfelt dislike of authority. All seven of his kids seem to have inherited that last characteristic.

Thank you, Dad, and good-bye. I hope we always have more like you when we need them.

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