Monday, May 25, 2015

`Shitcan the Imagination'

Given the grudging scraps of information he shared, which never amounted to discrete “war stories” with a beginning, middle and end, my father’s experience in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II might as well have been a war movie I saw long ago and hardly remember. I know he served from 1942, the year he turned twenty-one, to 1946, four years before he married my mother, though I don’t know if he was drafted or enlisted. He was stationed in North Africa, though I’m not certain in what country, and in France, though I don’t know if he ever visited Paris. I don’t know how close he came to combat. In the few photos I’ve seen, he’s dressed in clean fatigues and still had hair. On those rare occasions he spoke of his time in the service, I sensed nostalgia for his pre-wife, pre-kids youth, mingled with a G.I.’s resentment at Army blundering and the stupid, imperious ways of the brass. 

We went to a lot of war movies together and faithfully watched Combat! on television (7:30 p.m. Tuesdays), but his only comments were limited to pointing out errors of detail in uniforms, weapons and tactics. He loved Patton. I wish I knew more about the daily life of one American enlisted man, who was discharged a Tech. Sgt. As a boy I was probably looking for a hero. Today, I just want details. Writing of a later war in “A Letter to My Infant Son” (Deeply Dug In, 2003), R.L. Barth says: “There are few glorious stories in this war.” He writes: 

 “War is not the story
That you would have me tell you, as I heard it.
And what is courage? Too many things, it seems:
Carelessness, fatalism, or an impulse.
Yet it is none of these. True courage is
Hidden in unexpected terms and places:
In performing simple duties day by day;
In sometimes saying `no’ when necessary;
In, most of all, refusing to despair.
Even suppose a man is brave one time—
Is truly brave, I mean—will he be brave
A second time? In other ways? Perhaps.” 

The Vietnam War spawned little readable poetry. Barth’s is an exception. Here is his “Lessons of War”: 

“Hump extra rounds, frags, canteen, or long ration,
But always shitcan the imagination.”

2 comments:

Miguel (St. Orberose) said...

"In sometimes saying `no’ when necessary;
In, most of all, refusing to despair."

Indeed.

"Even suppose a man is brave one time—
Is truly brave, I mean—will he be brave
A second time? In other ways? Perhaps.”

That perhaps is so beautifully precise.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Since you are a direct relation, you can request your father's military records from the Department of Defense, if you haven't already. You can also search out the regimental and divisional historians of the units he belonged to.