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September, 1999

Little Soldier Boy

by Larry

One of my earliest memories, from while we were still in Florida and I must have been about two, was of a huge noisy monster roaring right at me, growing ever larger, with no way for me to escape. It turned out to have been a newsreel movie of a large bomber taking off toward the camera, out on an airfield. I screamed so much that Mom had to take me out of the matinee theatre where she'd gone with me for a bit of afternoon entertainment.

I was, of course, a child of my times. War and all aspects of the military played a large part in civilian life as well. We were still under rationing restrictions when I was born, so that things like butter, rubber, gasoline, and metal were in short supply, given the war effort, and very hard to come by. People were being urged to buy bonds! The cities eventually were under blackout conditions at night around the coasts.

Even after the war was over and the GIs, including my father, were coming home, the civilian population still had many adjustments to make. Women, for instance, often found they had to give up jobs they had had, and done well during the war, to returning soldiers. In our family's case, this kind of change was not necessary, for Dad had provided most of the income and had elected to remain a career officer. But we soon discovered that many other changes were in the offing.

In relatively short order, we were moved, with Dad's new assignments, to New Jersey, to Georgetown ( Washington, D.C.), to Georgia, and to Falls Church, Virginia, during the two year span coinciding with my ages 2-4.

Somewhere in there I had also been staying for awhile in San Antonio, where my mother had taken us to be near relatives, for my paternal grandparents and my Aunt Lucile and Uncle Shelby White lived in that city, while Dad was still overseas.

When Dad had come home, I stayed with my grandparents, Mama Pearl and Papa Frank, for awhile, as my mom and my dad became reacquainted with one another on a kind of second honeymoon. Another of my earliest memories is of Mama Pearl holding me, and listening to a music box from the safety of her arms, and her telling me my parents would be coming back, coming back soon. There was also a deer figurine that she had that was particularly memorable for me from that time. And Mama Pearl's aroma, or of the cosmetics and powders she used, will always be with me as a pleasant recollection.

It was during this general period too, I believe, that my Aunt Mabel, who enjoyed playing the piano and singing, composed a piece of music, "War Lullaby," which she sang for us and presented us with a copy of the score, that included a picture of me in a military style cap (see photo above), of the type that is flat, so it can easily fit under the GI's belt when it is not being worn.

My father had wanted me to have my own uniform. I do not recall how I came to acquire it. I assume my mother, who was a good seamstress, making many of the clothes her children wore as we were growing up, sewed it for me, probably from a pattern she made herself, to my small proportions. I must have been only three or four when I received it and began to wear it and had pictures taken in it. It was khaki throughout. Instead of trousers, there were shorts, so my cute little knees were visible in the photos. I always appeared very serious in that uniform. It seems to me that I was proud to be a little soldier. But I am not sure. It seemed generally to be a very serious time. While I wore that uniform, it was very important to my father that I give him a correct military salute. There were lessons on this; and it must be done right! At my young age, I may not have appreciated the significance of this.

The first gift I can remember my father giving me was when I was about five and we lived in Falls Church. Dad had made a machine & woodworking shop in our basement. He spent some time on his surprise. I was not allowed down there to see what he was making. It turned out to be a very sturdy, somewhat heavy, wooden airplane toy, painted bright red and complete with little wheels. l could pull it by a string. Or I could pick it up and swing around and pretend it was flying. But it just would not fly on its own! Unfortunately for Dad, I never really liked it. I much preferred the little balsa wood glider plane kits that could be purchased for a nickel or a dime and which, when properly weighted, would fly beautifully in great arcs and long breathtaking glides that went on and on. Or the paper plane gliders Dad would sometimes make for me, or later I'd make for myself, that I could fly indoors.

He also encouraged me to a special kind of war game that kept me busy for scores and scores or hundreds of hours over my young years. It required only some sheets of paper and a pencil. Any extra, throw-away or cheap tablet paper would do. First I would carefully draw in two opposing hillsides, as he had shown me. Then would come the no-man's-land stretches of mines, foxholes, barbed-wire entanglements, etc. Next the artillery pieces, tanks, headquarters caves and supply depots, offshore naval assets, incoming bombers and fighters, machine-gun emplacements, etc. Finally, would come the many, many foot soldiers, the ones least appreciated, must vulnerable, with whom I identified, even as, while the game progressed, I blew them up or mowed them down, right and left, till hardly anyone was left alive, till one side or the other had come out the victor, for that particular battle, on that one day. There was never actually an end to the warfare. No victory was permanent.

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