When the swing reached its apex, I would yell “Geronimo,” and jump.
Sometimes I was bailing out of a crippled plane, but more often I was parachuting behind enemy lines.
After hitting the ground and rolling, I’d rise to a crouch with my toy Tommy gun.
My cousin, Gene, would be right beside me looking for snipers or pillboxes. Usually we fought the Germans, though some days it would be the Japanese.
The Korean Conflict had recently ended, but I don’t remember us ever fighting the North Koreans.
Something about World War II captured our imaginations. I don’t think we were alone.
Of all the wars in which the United States has fought, World War II imprinted itself on the consciousness of the nation as the most clear-cut war between good and evil.
From across one ocean, we had been attacked by surprise. Across the other ocean a dictator was bent on dominating Europe and massacring men, women and children because of their religious and ethnic heritage.
American volunteers poured into military service. Countless young people who had never stepped out of their home states found themselves across the Atlantic or in the middle of the Pacific.
They slept in foxholes or the tight quarters of ships not knowing whether a mortar round or torpedo would prevent them from waking.
Their experiences changed them, changed our nation and changed the world.
Much speculation has occurred on what would have happened if the allies had not won World War II. No one knows, but I cringe at the possibilities.
Those who survived came back with ambitions, ideas and broader views of life. Their new perspectives resulted in immense changes to our country.
When they came home, some talked of the fears they faced, the losses they endured and the heroism they witnessed. Some remained silent for years or forever.
I’ve loved interviewing or just talking to those willing to recount their experiences. Their stories are better than the movies that sent me jumping from a swing when I was a child.
Whether describing sad or humorous events, these veterans usually speak with a passion linked to the risks with which they existed.
One of the men whose stories I visualized was my wife’s uncle, M.C. Legge, who crossed the Pacific on a sea-plane tender amid submarines and kamikazes. He flew on reconnaissance missions and eventually made his way to Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender.
Last weekend, M.C. like so many World War II veterans, took from this world the sights, sounds and experiences of a thousand days and nights he never related. Fortunately, he left us some of his memories.
He was part of a great generation that is leaving us.
As the flags are ceremoniously folded for them, it is good to remember their stories and their legacy.
Bob Anderson welcomes comments by email to email@example.com.
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