I was raised in the aftermath of World War I. The events of that conflagration were still fresh in the minds of my elders. As kids, we would listen to the yarns my uncle and my dad spun about their military service (neither had seen action.) As a voracious reader, I devoured books about the great conflict. Most of these glamourized and glorified heroism and sacrifice. Few dealt with the suffering. Several years later, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I felt regret. I was only sixteen and believed that the war would be over before I had a chance to participate.
War is a seminal event in the lives of those who have lived through it. Most people don’t realize that the majority of soldiers are not adults but teen-agers, too young to be exposed to carnage. Most of the recruits of my era were infused with patriotism and misconceptions about military life. No recruiting sergeant ever hinted that we would have to sleep in the snow on Christmas night or that we wouldn’t bathe for six weeks during the battle of the bulge. Nor did they mention that war is mostly about filth, intense physical discomfort and periods of boredom punctuated by short episodes of fear.
I would like to share an epiphany. One cold rainy day in Normandy I was assigned the ignominious task of digging a latrine. A young lieutenant kept riding our asses to hurry. At that point I vowed that I never wanted to dig ditches as a career. That vow was the beginning of my determination to pursue a higher education.