Recently I reviewed a book entitled Retribution, a story about the Allied powers forcing Japan to its knees to bring an end to the Second World War. To me, images and pictures seem to add interest and a bit of reality when inserted in a review. Online I found several pictures, one of which is shown here.
Although this particular photo was probably taken in Iraq, it is haunting because for some reason, it summoned up my own terrible fears of being dead as a young six-year-old boy during those horrific war years even though both conflicts were thousands of miles and oceans away. The picture’s pathos is extremely unnerving because one does not know if the soldier cuddles a live or dead child, or if the soldier is crying.
Although I was only six-years-old, I can remember the dread I had falling asleep at night during World War II after mom or dad turned off my bedroom light. I truly believed that my small neighborhood in Pittsburgh called “Homewood” could be attacked from the air at any time. So Air raid drills that terrified me were a familiar event. During the years 1943-45, Pittsburgh was a major steel producing city—one that would be surely bombed by the Japanese. A darkened city would make it hard for enemy bombers to find targets.
In a way I could understand, my parents had explained that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor which in my young mind was some part of the United States. I remember people singing, “Let’s remember Pearl Harbor,” although my family did not have a 78 rpm copy of it. Little did I know that the harbor sat far out in the Pacific Ocean on the Island of Honolulu, Hawaii. My gut feelings told me that if some part of the United States was attacked, then surely even “Homewood” could be attacked.
I knew that really bad people started the war. I used to lie beside my dad on the living room couch while he leafed through the daily newspaper. I remember seeing a gross picture of a large horizontal grave where bodies laid askew, draped grotesquely atop one another, waiting for a bulldozer to cover them with dirt. When I asked dad about those people, he quickly turned the page telling me, “They’re all dead; they’re going to cover them up.” I asked if their heads would be covered too and he replied, “Yes.”
During daytime, I was brave. My buddies and I talked about what we would do if all of a sudden, a group of attackers came down the street. With cap guns, toy rifles, and even sticks, we pretended to be confronting the enemy, easily out maneuvering and capturing them. At times, when any small plane droned overhead, we would locate it in the sky and because it could be a bomber, we’d pretend to shoot it down.
I recall a particular night when my aunt and her husband had come to visit via trolley car. My parents were entertaining in the living room of our small rented row house when, suddenly, air raid sirens sounded, screaming their terrifying shrill sounds into the night.
Within a few moments, every person in that room near a light—turned it off—all except a night light inside a large Sessions clock standing on the mantle. The clock was an imitation of the front of a silver airplane with large wings; Its face so designed that the hands represented a propeller. Just above sat the plane’s cockpit still lighted. It gradually appeared bright in the dark room even though it housed a very small bulb. The timepiece was about four inches in depth.
Everyone grew rather silent until there was a knock on the door. I couldn’t tell if the grownups reacted but that sound made me jump. After all these years, I can still remember how scared I was when my father answered the front door. There stood a ghostly looking man holding a flashlight who told dad to shut of the clock light—immediately. Without question, he did. Darkness was now complete. I could see only shadows with voices. Streetlights were off. Automobiles stopped and shut off their headlights.
After what seemed like a long time, in reality, lasted only twenty minutes or so. Then the sirens squealed again signaling the end of the drill. Although I was glad it was over, the faces of my parents and relatives showed they were glad—almost as if they, too, held some deep remote alarm inside. The group continued gabbing about my older cousin who was a fighter pilot during the war and had, so far, survived.
It amazes me that Retribution and that single Internet picture flooded me with such frightening memories. I cannot begin to imagine what kinds of images float through the minds of fighting women and men who returned home from Korea, Vietnam, and now Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. And the children of war—is it any wonder they grow up psychologically troubled—disturbed for a lifetime? It is my fondest hope that all those who serve will soon bring sanity back to the world and its impressionable little children.