So should we.
Remember, in all the world’s history, the only men who ever gave up their lives for total strangers were Americans.
That is the American beat, and it still goes on.
On Sundays, for over three years after my separation, I walked about a quarter of mile down the street to a Christian Church, in part because I liked the preacher, the son of an Army chaplain. And I liked the church itself. It was stranger-friendly. It was a rotunda, and the sanctuary was designed like an amphitheater, holding maybe 250. The back rows, the “sun pews” underneath stained glass windows, were called Bachelors Corner, although there were no corners in that church, and none of the men assembled there were bachelors…except me, sort of.
There were usually eight or ten of them, widowers, and mostly vets from WWII, then still in their late 60s, early 70’s. As I got to know them I learned they usually came thirty minutes or so early and would swap stories under the sun glass, while Sunday school in the adjacent building was still in session. So that became my habit, as well. There was one fellow especially, Bill, who was probably the best story teller I’d ever heard. A smallish man, he retired an Army major in the 1960s. And he was from “back home”, east Kentucky. His National Guard unit was called up en masse in 1942, and trained at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and then fought as a unit in the Aleutians. After that they split up and Bill was commissioned, and went to Italy, then onto Germany. Bill said he was promoted to corporal his first day in camp as he was one of only a few who could read.
All those fellow’s stories were of camp life or slogging through mud, sleeping in water-filled fox holes, and the like. Bill Mauldin kind of stories. Cartoons almost. Never of fighting. But as a storyteller Bill was best. He had pards named Lester, Abner, Moses and the like. His tale of Abner getting his first store-bought haircut outside Camp Shelby, and them teaching him the etiquette of how to pay for it (“always carry nickels, never give ’em a quarter and have to ask for change”…Abner wasn’t too good as his sums and takeaways either”) was as funny a story I’d heard since Ring Lardner[…]