I was born in 1936, which means I will be celebrating my 80th birthday this year. I was just a kid when World War II began and although it was more than 70 years ago, I can remember everything that happened with my family, friends and myself. The greatest memory of my life at that time happened when the war was over.
I had always been interested in the military, as most kids were, but when the war started, it became almost a way of life as we lived through it.
Our clothes were tan or khaki. We would wear the overseas hat the soldiers wore. At our age, the war was an exciting time. We did not realize the tragic times, the loss of life, the destruction of property. Each of my friends owned a toy rifle. We would play war. The worst part of the game was when you had to be the enemy.
Our battles would last for days, hiding from each other and sneaking into our houses to eat dinner, and then sneaking out so that our opponent could not find you to “shoot you” with his toy rifle. One day I was hiding in the bushes surrounded by the enemy. I had to go to the bathroom. I had three choices: surrender, get shot or go in my pants. When I finally got out of my hiding place, I took my underwear off and threw it down the sewer. My mother never said anything about my missing underwear. She was a great patriot.
On the side of my house was a brick porch. It was probably 10 feet high. The porch became an airplane; the ledge the bomb bay door. We jumped, making believe we were paratroopers. I will always remember the pain in my shins as we landed on our feet. The pain was worse if we landed on our head.
Down the block from my house was a vacant lot full of weeds, with an abandoned car, its roof broken off. Periodically we would pull the weeds out, stuff them into the abandoned car and climb on board and then drop a match into the dry weeds. When the car and weeds started to burn, we all jumped off. We were paratroopers jumping from a burning plane.
More often than I’d like to say, air raid sirens would blast the neighborhood. The rule: Get inside, shut your blinds, turn off the lights and wait for the signal to go back to normal. My mother, grandmother, brother and I would listen to the radio and wait for the “all clear.”
My father was a general practitioner medical doctor. Today they are called family practitioners. When the war broke out, he went into the Army as a first lieutenant and medic. Overseas, he was promoted to captain. Before he was shipped to Europe, he was stationed at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois My mother, grandmother, brother and I went to Illinois before my father was shipped out. I remember going to the post exchange (PX) with my dad, who was in full uniform. It was a thrill to see all the soldiers saluting my father. I even remember getting a malted at the PX. I could go on forever with my experiences, but the worst thing was that my father would be gone for 3 1/2 years. I realized then that playing Army would no longer be a game.
While my father was overseas, I became more interested in learning about the Army. Medals, uniforms, ranks, became almost an obsession. I knew every rank and medal from either front, Europe/Asia. The teacher and kids in PS 177 Brooklyn, would come to me, a little kid, with questions about the war.
One day, as classes were over, there was a huge crowd and a lot of noise outside of the PS 177. The kids, knowing my obsession with the Army, yelled to me, “Irwin, there’s a general outside of the school in uniform with lots of medals.” I ran down the steps and yelled out, “That’s not a general, that’s my father!”
I ran up to him, he grabbed me and held me tight, and I kissed my “General,” who I had not seen in 3 1/2 years. That is a memory I will never forget as long as I live.