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July, 1999

War Baby

by Larry

(Having been impressed with the earlier writings of Julia, Val, and Andy about their personal and/or family histories, I am attempting here to contribute some of my own recollections or reconstructions along these lines.)

To use the King James English version of the events, about 2/3/42, my father, Leon, and my mother, Julia, were wed, after which they did know one another. They must have known each other rather well about 1/43, for nine months later, 10/26/43, the issue of their union or...er...knowledge, whom they called Lawrence (hereafter referred to as simply "me," " myself," and "I,") was born.

I came into this world, they say, as best I remember what I was told about it, for, fortunately, I have no memory of this part, in a hospital used then by the dependents of Army personnel stationed at Ft. Myers, Florida, near Petersburg and Tampa, on an island, built on the bay, as Dad was happy to remind me, out of garbage. I was thus to regard myself as something of a compost sport or a weed-like being that had generated and eventually thrived despite its humble origins.

In that year far more significant things were also occurring. Our country, the good ol' U.S. of A., along with its allies, Britain, its surviving Commonwealth countries, and the Soviet Union (go figure!), were embroiled in a huge struggle, indeed the greatest war this world had yet seen, with Germany and Japan. Italy by then had already surrendered to the Allies; but this former Axis partner was then promptly invaded and occupied by Germany, against whom we would continue the Italian campaign essentially till the end of the war in Europe, nearly two years later. Tens of millions of soldiers and civilians were being rendered homeless, wounded, or killed each year as that horrendous war continued.

In that year too research was begun, near Valerie's later childhood home and in New Mexico, that would lead, a couple years hence, to the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, perhaps dramatically shortening the war in Asia. And 1943 saw the original experimentation by our government on d-lysergic acid, a derivative of which, LSD-25, commonly called LSD, would play a large part in the counterculture of the 1960's and 1970's.

Shortly after I was born, my father was transferred overseas, first, I believe, to Hawaii, in the Army Signal Corps. Later he was assigned to General Douglas MacArthur's war crimes investigation unit in Japan, after that country's surrender. In that capacity, he did interrogations and other researches into military personnel and/or civilians involved in Japan's industrial production during World War II. Some of those whom he investigated were later charged with war crimes, others exonerated.

My mother, meanwhile, stayed with me in the Tampa, Florida area during the first 2 years or so of my life. There are pictures of she and me near a cute little white frame house there, with an average yard. I believe there was a garden for vegetables and that we had a few chickens for eggs and frying.

There was also a big black snake, an indigo, I believe, that used to sun itself on our back porch. According to stories related by our folks later, once, when Dad was home from the war, he saw that this snake has shed its skin and took the skin and surprised Mom by wrapping it around her, she thinking it was the actual snake, and screaming accordingly. On another occasion, he is said to have cut off the last few inches of the snake's tail and put it under Mom's pillow, still wriggling, just before she went to bed, so that when she slid her arm under her pillow, as she usually did when going to sleep she would find it there. Evidently her reaction to this was also quite satisfactory from his point of view, as, in later years' retellings, he seems to have thought both pranks very funny.

While Dad was overseas, however, Mom and I just spent a lot of time alone together. For better or worse, there were no reptilian surprises and we got used to a relatively stress-free relationship together. There were occasional exceptions, as when I chose to go off and see the world, not bothering first to get advice from Mom. I had received a little red wagon toy at some point. It seemed to me that this might be useful on my trip. So, I pulled it along behind me as I set off. I believed that clothes were a nuisance I could do without and which definitely did not belong on this journey. So I discarded the few I had had on earlier in the day. I probably figured, in any case, it was time for a nice, full-body tan. In this fashion, then, I started off and soon found myself in the midst of other travelers, which excited me and encouraged me on my way, down the middle of a busy highway in Tampa. I believe I intended to make several miles by nightfall. However, at length Mom discovered that I was missing , found me, much sooner than I was wishing to be found, and took me back home. Oh well.

When Dad returned, our idyllic time ended. He, according to Mom, had changed during the war, particularly while he was overseas, and came back somewhat hardened from the man he had been before. It was perhaps most natural, in view of the hardships he had experienced and, even more, the tragedies and atrocities that he, like most men under wartime conditions, had had to observe. Besides, now he was used to a disciplined, military existence. When he spoke, people listened. They did not object, argue, become agitated, or refuse. They simply did as he had ordered. Back in the states, things were often quite different. Probably the adjustment he faced was much greater than that for his wife and son.

All of this is background, based on what others have told me. In my own memory, however, things did not start until I was about 1 to 2 years old, still there in Tampa. It likely began while Dad was still away, and continued after he had returned, that I got into the habit of playing with a neighbor dog. I have delightful, vivid memories of free-for-all romps that seemed to last forever with this dog, which, as I recall it, was a large German shepherd. We would wrestle and run and jump and snuggle and generally have a great time together, treating each other just like a couple of rambunctious puppies, romping and rolling about together. I was glad that my canine friend, in spite of great size, was fairly gentle with me. In later years I saw some pictures of myself with the animal and was amazed to discover that it was just a little white dog, hardly bigger than I was at the time.


Mom's Clarification of "War Baby" Recollections by Larry: Mom points out that McDill Field and Drew Field, not Ft. Myers, were the installations in FL associated with my birth and that Dad was stationed at Drew, an early warning radar station/training center, with a tent city, and many rattlesnakes and water moccasins. Dad interviewed for and got the job of Intelligence Officer and worked 14-16 hour days, seven days a week, in those hectic times. Mom washed his uniforms by hand and shined shoes for him.

(Photos: top - Larry and Julia on Bob's bicycle, in a picture taken by Shelby about 1945-46, probably in San Antonio; middle - Larry, 1945, near Tampa; bottom - Larry and friend, 1945)


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