The day Germany surrendered, all of America went wild. The war was finally over, and Madison Park was alive, with car horns honking, people yelling, whistling, hugging, and housewives banging pots and pans. We youngsters tied tin cans and garbage-can lids to our bikes and blew whistles as we rode around the streets.
One afternoon, just as the bell rang announcing the end of the school day at J. J. McGilvra School, our classroom door opened, and there stood a schoolmate’s dad in his uniform. We all clapped and cheered. That happened often for the next several months. A couple of us wished we could celebrate a homecoming, too, but we had learned and accepted the realities of war.
Just like the movies?
Folks believed the rumors that the enemy was near and that balloons with explosives attached were being sent from submarines off the coast. In the evenings, we pulled the curtains and shades down, and headlights were hooded so as not to be seen from above.
Even during a typical school day, there were many air-raid drills. Diving under desks became as routine as pledging to the flag.
Servicemen on leave during summer vacation on the beach would tell us of their experiences while on mission. We listened in awe, hanging on to every word, trying to make sense of war as they censored stories not meant for young ears.
In spite of the grimness of it all, we waged war in the woods — the heated battle breaking up only with the word, “Lunch!” by someone’s mother.
During the summer months, it was common practice to collect bottles on the beach to buy caps and cap guns at the hardware and dime stores and go to movies.
Since any news was minimal back then, we younger kids had only a broad view of troop movements. Even at the movies, the family concept was kept in mind to shield us from the harsher realities of war.
I recall my grandfather taking me to the Telenews at a theater on Third Avenue between Pike and Union streets. A kid could get in only if accompanied by an adult, and that was where we saw newsreels more on the adult side.
When a war movie hit town, we stood in long lines on Saturday mornings to watch our hero running through bomb blasts and enemy gunfire, with bandoliers of ammo strung over his shoulders, while firing a .50-caliber machine gun with one hand on the trigger and the other on the barrel. In between bursts, he pulled the grenade pin with his teeth and threw it, wiping out hundreds of the enemy.
We would always walk up the aisle standing tall with newfound enthusiasm. The heroes of the silver screen gave us a true image of patriotism and a feeling of pride in ourselves.
We believed everything our hero did — until we went through basic training while serving Uncle Sam.
Throwing a hand grenade had basic steps: rock back, pull pin, throw. We learned that if anyone pulled the pin on a hand grenade with his teeth, someone had better call the medics to tend to damage to the mouth and find teeth.
As far as firing that .50 caliber while holding the barrel — that’s the making of a barbeque. And standing while firing the big gun would very much knock you off your feet.
The real thing
We finished our stints with the second eight weeks of basic training. One late afternoon, on the last day of bivouac, where we had lived in the field 14 days, we marched in full battle gear back to Fort Ord, some 3 1/2 miles. It was a slow, dusty march and we were spent.
As we entered the company area, Ol’ Man Captain yelled, “You are through basic. You are now soldiers, so look like it…unless you’d like to do it all over again!”
He then called us to attention and loudly called cadence. It was then, as we passed new recruits, who stopped and stared, that we felt that same feeling we had walking up the aisle after a war flick. We stood a little taller. That was patriotism!
That evening, a few of us indulged in Coors and Falstaff beer, not available in Washington at that time. We clinked our bottles and toasted to good friends, no more basic and being on the right side.
After basic, we were assigned to our permanent duty station. Some went to Korea, Germany and Fort Ord. I was assigned to the 84th Engineers Communication section, a position held by enlisted personnel, not draftees, so I really lucked out.
While there, I did photo work and illustrations for training purposes and electrical schematics of company networks. With my barely appropriate cartoons, I drew a monthly cartoon strip called “Aces Corner” and created cards and art pieces for officers. Seldom did I pull KP or have to stand guard — for this I was grateful.
I had been resentful of being drafted, but I left the Army with a solid foundation, pride for my country and a good memory of the time spent.
RICHARD CARL LEHMAN is a longtime Madison Park resident. To comment on this story, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.