Monday, November 11, 2013

Sweet Baby James

A year ago, I told you about our own family mystery, where my Mom’s first husband was killed in WWII. Well, my father, her second husband James, had a role in that war, too.

When I was a little girl, my Dad told me that he signed up for the navy and went through a rigorous training to become a fearsome pilot. As soon as Dad received his wings and the word went out that he was flying “over the pond”, Hitler gave up. Naturally, since my father was a hero of gigantic proportions, I believed him. 

I’ve still got my Dad’s story to tell one day. It’s one of those novels that will probably take forever to write, a multi-generational story, mixed with my mother and mother-in-law’s tales. After the comedic mystery, that is, and the two YA novels…gotta get the short story obsession out of the way first…anyhow, I digresss. 

My Dad always looked far younger than he was, which certainly pissed off my mother. But when he was a kid, the baby face was useful for begging groceries from the corner storeowner. My grandfather was an alcoholic who squandered his initial wealth, lost jobs on a regular basis, and drank up any welfare cheques he received. As a result of the Depression and my grandfather’s own depression, my father and his six siblings were often hungry. His mother sent Sweet Baby James out regularly to blink his huge blue eyes, probably shed a few tears, and garner a can of soup or two.

It’s a testimony, then, to how desperate the military was for new recruits that they took my father’s application at face value. Surely they could tell he was no more than seventeen, since he looked about twelve. However, his older brothers were signing up, as were all his friends. When I asked my gentle, pacifist Dad (later, after I stopped believing the Hitler thing), “Why did you sign up?”, he answered, “It was a way to get regular meals, plus I had a pay cheque to send back to my mother.”

Probably the best reason anyone could have to put their life on the line, to pledge to the greatest evil a human being can commit: killing another human being. Although my Dad didn’t see it that way at first, he certainly felt blessed that, in the end, he wasn’t deployed. By then he’d seen enough of the destruction, the death, the soul damage, the maiming, that Dad was thankful. He got the respect for signing up, but didn’t have to pay the price. A complicated bunch of emotions must have gripped him at the time, though he never shared that.

In the Toronto Star this morning, I read an article on a new book called The Angels of Our Better Nature, in which author Steven Pinker claims the world is getting more peaceful. Also read an article through the Internet that the average age of our military is nineteen. I can’t verify either of these statements, but I hope for one and shake   my head at the other.
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