Good Times Remembered

10 Nov

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
(and ne er brought
to mind)

or friendship e’er grow cauld?
Should we nae tighter draw the knot?
Aye, as we’re
growing auld?

How comes it then, my worthy friend,
Wha used
to
be sae kin’
we dinna for ilk ither spier
as we did lang syne.

 Bobby Burns could nae hae said it better… As we grow older and fewer and slacken the closeness we knew … “should we not draw the knot a little tighter?” Our kindest remembrances are not of the hard part, but of the laughs and the craziness, the visits home, exploring new places, finding wonderful people who wanted only to show their gratitude …. and did.

Within the time we spent as warriors-in-training, in dirty work, in waiting and anxiety or in the inhumanity of combat, we enjoyed lots of hours in good company … without the dirt, the pack and the gun. These stories are gathered from your own writings, e-mails, reunion chatter and hear-says. Maybe those brief good times don’t seem like much now, but think on it; you’ll remember how those hours gave us some peace of mind, faith in the right of what we were doing … and hope for better times.

If the names and faces are mixed up it doesn’t matter. Sharing ‘the auld acquaintance’ … that’s what counts. Send us your ‘good times’ stories and we’ll set a place at the table. (Names omitted to protect the guilty and the innocents.)

 “We went to church in a town near the camp, maybe Fayetteville. Usually, some family would pick us out as Yankee boys and invite us to breakfast at their home, so they could convert us … and then we’d stay for the day soaking up Southern hospitality. I believe they did the breakfast routine every week. They may have thought we were starving and sinning out at camp. Of course, their food was better. I hope they knew how we appreciated the pancakes and ham steaks and scrambled eggs with grits … and, and…One Sunday we spent the afternoon target shooting with 22s. They were sure we’d like that. On another Sunday we were invited to a wedding of nice people we didn’t know.  One trusting couple loaned us their car and their two lovely daughters for sightseeing. We expected that the girls had their orders even though they enjoyed embarrassing us. It was one of the nicest days I can remember, like family. Big Daddy said, ‘y’all come back and see us, ‘heah?” Thanks B.D.

“The Captain volunteered us off to a dance at LSU, no way out. The gym hall was decorated with flowers and all the windows were open so the breeze came through.  It’s hard to describe. Most small town guys had never seen anything like it except in the movies. When the sun went down, there were lights all over, even in the trees. All the girls looked like Scarlet O’Hara with hoop skirts. Naturally, my partner was the Phys. Ed. director and looked it. She demonstrated some judo holds, no holds barred and it turned comical. I still laugh when I remember that. We were walking around the campus when the dance music started. It sounded just like Glenn Miller’s band. Guess what. It was Glenn Miller, a Captain or Major then. He came to our table and talked with us. I was forgotten. She sat there in a trance.”

“The day we got our wings was unbelievable.” No way I could make it through jump school. Everybody was bigger, tougher and faster. As our numbers shrank, I was still there. Nobody worked harder. A trainer said that most who made it without injury were “fire plugs or telephone poles, not movie stars.” We toughened up and learned our stuff. Fewer people got hurt or bumped – we built something formidable. ‘Graduation Day’ seems odd for guys corning out of a fire pit like that. But we had become superior people. Airborne Infantry, the best of the best and the Commandant said that. Even those menacing trainers shook hands and said they were proud. They said they knew all along who’d make it. They watched for commitment and resolve, not brawn and bravado. The ‘wrong’ people left early. The hard times were yet to come, but it was a fine day. Maybe there were a lot of us who knew we couldn’t do it … there we stood, up there with the best.

“It was a miserable place for a picnic. The first platoon occupied a precarious razor back ridge, but I remember it as a genuinely good time. The temperature was well over a hundred … no water; no shade but some vines. Our blankets were covered with fly specks and mold. The L-4s dropped boxes of pork chops right on target. We got some fires going and cooked the pork chops in our helmets, being careful to pour off the fat. We got to horsing around, laughing like loonies, and gobbling the pork chops like we didn’t have a worry in the world. The next high ridge stared down on us. A P-38 came over and dropped 500 pounders on each side of the ridge. A couple of days later we paid the price. Paratyphoid. That part wasn’t good.”

“A full three day pass to New Orleans. That was a good time. Six of us got a hotel room; we stocked it with beer and Southern Comfort. Instead of getting smashed as planned, we had a polite dinner at the Court of the Two Sisters and then saw the Preservation Hall Band followed by a strip bar for beer. We had breakfast on Sunday in an open air garden by the river and took a paddle wheeler ride, then to church in that big Monastery. We hired a horse and buggy to ride through the French Quarter and out to some old mansions … we went around twice. There was a dance at the YMCA and we stayed till they closed the doors. On Monday we rode the street car to the city limits and visited Old Hickory’s battlefield … like tourists do today. About noon, we got the bus back to camp with time still to go. Dull? Why do I recall that weekend when I forget everything else? Maybe my psychiatrist granddaughter can explain that. It’s amazing how you can recall the good times.”

“On a clear day you can almost see forever. Our mountain was six or eight thousand feet high and the remains of our company squatted on top. Maybe it was a hundred miles to the end of the plains where daybreak began. Incessant rains, earthquakes and eruptions over millions of years shaped the chasms and ravines, carving the peaks and rims into sharp edges. Volcanic soil enriched the valley we’d crossed. For four days and nights shuddering explosions had rumbled and echoed through the enemy’s fortress deep in the mountain and kept us sleepless. Now, this morning, it was quiet and we could safely look to the distance, listen and feel that the war devils were at rest. Just days before, every peak and ridge was blossomed with drifting red smoke. They signaled that the high ground was ours. The hard journey to this place was ended and we looked North towards Tokyo. Most of us had our three strikes behind us. We would go there, but for now this work was done. It was a very good day.

“Going home on leave was the number one good time. I suppose so, but my friends weren’t there, we’d lost a few good ones and the town had shrunk. The family and I didn’t see things the same way. My one-time girlfriend (a modest high school romance) suggested we do the same things we did before I went away. It was a little like old times, but the stamp of finality was clear. She was the senior queen with plenty of boy friends. We went hill climbing, bicycling, picnicking and swimming. We sat around in long, thoughtful silences and at night, toured the old hangouts. There were too many strange faces from the war factories. Even though the past was gone, and we’d never be the way we were, I’m glad we went. While many can go back, most of us can’t. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder. We both had a last chance to be kids before we had to go away. Those few days were nice to remember, a kind of picture album. We had a good time and parted friends.”

“Doris and I got married when we were eighteen and I was in the Navy. Everybody knew it wouldn’t last; maybe it won’t, but that was sixty years ago. Most of our time has been a good time, but there was a special time when we were living in a windblown half-barracks near the base, with half a bed, a gas hotplate and a kerosene heater that threatened us day and night. We shared an ice box, our bread and wine, and the bathroom. We celebrated our marriage on weekends and took a long honeymoon about fifty years later. She could have gone ‘home’ and lived with our families. Instead, she lived with me and the Navy. We laugh about it now and we laughed about it then even when we were freezing. I was in training at the Great Lakes Station. I guess, according to the song, ‘we had our love to keep us warm.’ We sure didn’t have anything else.”

“Dinner at Tiffany’s … it wasn’t.”  Many young Filipinos attached themselves to us in return for whatever turned up: food for the family, cigarettes, boots, trade goods and anything they could lift. In Nanni’s case, he wanted revenge for the killing of his family at Calamba. Mischief maker Emilio was an operator and entertainer. Rosco wanted a ticket to America. Rodrigo was older, serious and clever. He invited us, and eventually everyone to dinner at the family’s house. We brought what we could and they made us feel special.  An uncle played a small banjo. It was an enjoyable evening and clearly well rehearsed. The spicy chicken, rice soup, wine and hot bread were delicious. I don’t like to think it was a scheme, but after the war came regular letters begging for money … for memory’s sake, for old friends, for the good times … we had so much and they were so poor. “But send money, no packages or bank checks. Don’t send anything to the church, they are selfish crooks.” I suspect he did well in the Public Relations business.

“The fierce little nun with the big stick. She said I’d go to hell if I didn’t change my sinful ways. That’s serious stuff for an eight year old who hadn’t yet discovered ‘ways.’ I hope she was satisfied a dozen years later as my lady friend and I ‘played house’ for six months. It wasn’t true love and not exactly passion and our ‘blue heaven’ was part of a tumbledown barracks carved into one-room ‘apartments.’ Four Army couples lived there on weekends – with all the trimmings of wedlock except minister or music. We were unmarried newlyweds, fantasizing. When the idea of forever-together wore thin neither of us suffered any remorse. We’d shared a flaming interlude that quickly turned drafty. Movies are made of less. Overseas, I wrote short uninspired letters but the inevitable lucky guy came between us. Odd, isn’t it, that a guy who wore a hair shirt and constantly droned mea maxima culpa should believe that our bright-eyed affair was consecrated and virtuous. She’d be eighty now.”

“It was Thanksgiving Day in New Guinea and a good time was had by all. We were thankful for being off the ship. The weather was good and the war was up North. There was no duty schedule, no housekeeping. After breakfast we went swimming. Some Aussie nurses in the next camp swam nude – naked, and we weren’t allowed to notice. The day had a good start. About mid-afternoon was chow bells and some volunteers were appointed to work as servers at the tables. Cooks, like gods, make miracles. Turkey and cold beer, mashed potatoes and gravy and everything you couldn’t expect. We pigged out. The leftovers were taken to the camp perimeter so the starving Japanese  could help themselves. They were finished fighting and just wanted something to eat. They gave us no trouble. By midnight, everybody had food poisoning. We probably poisoned a hundred starving Japanese soldiers.”

“It was my first day home.” Everybody was there, waiting on the front porch. There wasn’t much to say and we stood together in the cold. They knew I was coming on the bus. Nobody wanted that minute to end. There are no pictures, but it was something Rockwell could paint. I hadn’t seen my wife for more than a year though we’d mailed photos when we could. That was hard to realize … my wife, as if I were seeing her for the first time. She wore the hat with the Spring flowers, the one she wore on our honeymoon. Why couldn’t I just run up the steps? It took me a long time to get there. They were patient and understood, but they looked uncomfortable, never having seen me bruised and yellow. You know, Atabrine. Then, the squirming bundle in her arms let out a squall  and I knew everything was alright. It was the best of days. Never thought I’d be making a speech at his fifty fifth birthday party.

“Losing a fortune in an all day crap game might not be a good time. We were on the troop ship going home. We all had a few dollars and lots of time. Cards, dice and bull chucking were the big pastimes. There were twenty five or so people there, hoping and cheering. Close to mid-day, this one guy who had no idea of what he was doing kept hitting the numbers and letting it ride. The guy with the hot hands was me. The dollars piled up and side bets covered the floor and I was sweating a stonn. Three thousand bucks sat there. The dice bounced, galloped and danced … and came up aces. Nobody made a move or a sound. It was done, finished and I thought about jumping over the side. But I was alive, free, healthy, wealthy and heading home. The world was alright … and only fifty of those dollars were mine to begin with. Lady Kismet stole the rest and taught me a lesson. Now and then I buy a lottery ticket.”

“Sax and trumpet on Connolly’s back porch.” We were untroubled guys promising to be forever old friends, making sweet music and drinking Cokes. What brought us together on that wann Fall night in ’42? We just showed up. Me and Smitty, Bill, Hubie, Dave, Danny and Frank were just weeks away from going in. Mrs. Connolly made toasted sandwiches and Mr. Connolly sat inside. He was half blind from WWI but was always one of us. We played records like always. The girls didn’t come over like they usually did because maybe they knew this was a man-thing. We talked about what we should do for the weeks ahead … bowling, skating, walking around Front Street, maybe playing a little grab-ass. This night wouldn’t happen again. We felt different already; leaving home, losing the dull, small town constancy; losing a time and place and each other. I’d like to say we got together again but we didn’t. It was no longer “us on somebody’s back porch.” That night and its mindless ritual was especially right for us and nobody said goodbye.”

“They dropped the big one … we sat there, stunned.” There was a fuss in and around the rec-tent; people standing in bunches talking in low tones. We were a witness to history and didn’t know it. The little radio was getting garbled news. Nobody knew so we made some guesses. Hirohito executed, or Tojo. Or Harry Truman. Maybe the invasion had started without us, couldn’t be. Then the radio cleared up and we heard that the U.S. had dropped a tremendous bomb on Tokyo that flattened everything for twenty miles around. Then we heard that a blast hole in the ground was a mile deep and growing. The pieces kept coming in. Our guys on the perimeter hadn’t heard a thing. There was no cheering or jumping up and down. Knowing the Japanese, there was more to come. But there was hope now. It began to look like a good day. One of our squads had gone out at first light to look into reports of Jap infiltrators. I saw them coming back. It was a sorry sight. The war was ended and we lost three more people.

“I remember being on garbage detail one of the best of good times at CampUpton, Long Island, Christmas ’42. It was the coldest week in history and sleet made the tents sag. Some of them collapsed. The iron cherry stoves burned down some shelters every night. Some guys who knew the ropes volunteered for garbage duty and I joined them. For a couple of hours each day we froze and rode around the camp unloading garbage cans … but then, ah, then: we slept in the back end of the mess hall. It was warm, dry, smelled good and we ate what and when we wanted to, except when we were cruising for garbage. I can still see those long tired lines of freezing guys pitying us. Compared to them, we had made it to Hollywood… that career lasted five days, then we moved to South Carolina with our new barracks bags.”

“Nobody knew the score, but we won. Arrogance and belligerence were large in our training. It wasn’t right for hometown boys but that’s the infantry way. The cadre encouraged conflict – and sometimes it got out of control and turned savage. The physical drills were rough and tough but nobody got hurt. Contests between companies or battalions were matters of bloody honor. Win or else. Second Battalion challenged First Batt. to a football game complete with rules, referees and helmets. We had two days to forge a team and figure out a few plays. Coach DeVinney (our weapons instructor) needed people who had played in high school, sandlot … or who knew a football from an eight ball. I got picked to play center and linebacker because I was the smallest guy there. It was one long fistfight. The refs stopped the contest in the fourth quarter and gave us the victory and the ball. The other team’s conduct did them in. We went to the PX and the Major paid for the beers. He was one proud old guy. Us, too. It was our only official game.”

“Good times? How about four girls and a guy? … In Washington DC in ’43 the ratio was eleven to one. It was the place to be and despite the fables not everybody was lust-driven. We rented an apartment from a group of office girls who always went home on weekends … it cost a few dollars and the promise of good conduct. It was my favorite hangout. I got there one night, not knowing that the girls were staying for the weekend the others had been told by phone. Not me. As the door opened I turned red and apologized but … they kindly insisted I join their shameless debauchery. I tried to be cavalier and turned into a sweaty wreck, never before having seen four grownup girls prancing in their shorties and nighties. Like predators, with an unseasoned gentleman nailed to a tree, those women were merciless. As the wine flowed they got rowdier and stopped noticing me. Then they kicked me out for the last bus to Baltimore … I heard their giggling and shrieking. No, I don’t believe it either, but I can see it clearly. Oh, my goodness.”

“A good time … conjures up a lot of ideas. For some of us, being young in a new world and needing to prove something fast, the good time was the forty eight hour solution … craziness. All the beer you could swill, all the money you could spend, as many fights as you could survive, as many ladies as … oh, boy did we have a time. The way B.G. describes it – his greatest good time started with a half dozen beers and no food. The MPs brought him back sick, stinking, screaming, cross-eyed drunk and filthy. He threw up in the drunk wagon, in the barracks, in his bunk and everywhere. He says it was the time of his life. Yes, his wallet was stolen, his nose was bloodied and his uniform couldn’t be saved. His buddies hosed him down in the shower and beat him with wet towels. The CO took away his rank. Of his three years in the service – that’s what he remembers. When he tells the story he goes into uncontrollable laughing fits. What a great memory.”

“Our squad went to Kamakura, where the Golden Bhudda is. We took a jam packed train from Ichinoseki and carried no rifles. Our squad leader had a .45. The Japanese were dressed up and polite, a kind of Sunday in the Park. There was no sign of war and the gardens were still in bloom. We strolled around the shrine and found an ice cream cart. Then we noticed a large area like a tropical park enclosed within high iron fences. Our Sergeant shook the gates and an old man bellowed and demanded we go away. Nobody allowed. He was pretty nasty about it, so Gindhart reached through the gates and poked the forty five at him. The gates were instantly unchained and the caretaker fell on his hands and knees sobbing. It was the Emperor’s private sanctuary and we went all through it. We didn’t take off our boots and even used the toilets. No holes in the floor for us. Toward evening, we sat in the Emperor’s chairs and got a spectacular sundown view of Fuji. Just tourists having a great time. We’d paid in full for our tickets and had traveled a hard road. I wish we could have a reunion there.”

“Men are from Mars,” says Konrad Lorenz in his book ‘On Aggression.’ He tries to explain why males do aggressive, irrational things … while the females sit by and cluck. Well, some do. What has the aggressive-survival gene to do with a monumental day? Listen! We were assigned to spike a training field with dynamite. We’d taken a course in explosive devastation and had a field layout which we lost. But we knew how to do it and laid out a plot to simulate a mortar barrage. New troops would learn to “spread out while crossing an open field.” It took four nervous hours to dig it in, insert the blasters and wire the stuff through switches to a six V. battery. About noon we got word that the drill was called off. We should take it all apart and return the explosives to the supply depot. That would be absolute suicidal. So instead, we rigged an abandoned plantation house with everything we had and blew it sky high. It was a lunatic stunt and near fatal, but we had the blast of our lives. Nobody saw, nobody asked, nobody told. The supply officer knew.”

“It was the best of times, getting chewed out. The commander beat the hell out of me out loud and I took it with a half-smile. I’d brought my B-24 home with its bomb bay doors missing. They dropped off over the Channel. But I brought it home, that’s the point. Our engineer had urinated into the bomb bay – and as we delivered on our target the mechanisms froze solid. There’s no way we could land with the doors down, so the engineer and I worked for an hour to free up the bays and jettison them. It was a mean, dangerous job, a bumpy ride home but we made it. The commander was a nasty guy to begin with … and after beating on me in front of the crew, he realized that he was acting the fool. He huffed and puffed and walked away. It was a great victory for the little people.”

“I’m in the Army … what a fantastical feeling.” This guy has to be out of his head. Everybody was in or going in … and I was out. The first time they sent me horne: ‘finish school.’ The next time, they found some serious blood trouble – ‘go horne.’ The third time they called me for an exam, same thing and I was devastated. Beaten. I yelled and pleaded, told them I had played football and I ran cross country. Everybody else was signed on. The examiner gave me some pills and a hotel chit. The next morning, I stood with a billion other naked guys with my clothes in a bag and my heart in my mouth. A nine foot tall Colonel looked at my papers and asked if I knew the Malone family in my town. Of course. They lived across the street. He smiled and said, “You really want to get in?” I was speechless. He stamped some papers and said ‘good luck, Joseph.’ I jumped around until a corporal put a tag on me and wrote up my travel papers. It was a day never to forget.” Six months later, I had a platoon. Soon afer, I was a paratrooper.

Psychologists say we have few needs in life: food, water, shelter, security and reproduction of the species, like the family cat. Next we need bonding to a person, family, tribe, language or culture. We need to be a respected part of a social unit that answers our needs for recognition and identity. We deserve those simple rights. Street gangs and religious organizations offer the similar propositions. The collective spirit and loyalties certify us. We get self-worth. We may need only to accept it.

Years back I met a fellow I didn’t like. Don’t laugh. That was in nineteen forty five. He clearly disliked me, too, maybe more so. We won’t ever understand why because at a recent reunion we tripped over a link from way back and spent an hour catching up, like dreary grey heads. Maybe he saved my life or shared his water. Maybe it was the other way around. We had once walked side-by-side into battle carrying loads that would cripple an ordinary mule. We belonged, as equals.

This other guy was a snooty, over-educated sort who thought much of himself. We shared the same anxiety, rain, the pain of loss and we dutifully covered each other on patrol. Years after the war, passing through his home town, I called his phone. He did not remember me, I must be confused, and his few cold words said there was no connection –so be gone. Could be, he forgot. That cut me down and anyway, I don’t believe him. Maybe I opened a page best left closed.

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