There is a war on

Special Independence Day Message

You wouldn’t believe what it takes to fight a war. Besides guns, tanks, ships and airplanes, it takes cowboy boots, candy bars, baseball bats, fathers, ground up nuts, and handkerchiefs, lots of handkerchiefs.

That’s what I figured out as a young boy walking back and forth on the sidewalk in front of our house in Payson in my new boots. I really liked those boots, but I didn’t love them. They were good, but not perfect. They were English riding boots. They were not cowboy boots. That is what I had been begging and whining for. They were not cowboy boots my mother told me because there was a war on. That was the standard answer whenever we wanted something and couldn’t have it.

Rubber tires, gasoline, I could understand, but how you could fight Germans and Japanese with cowboy boots? Some other things I was also not clear on. We got a baseball bat once for Christmas. It was the only one in the store my mother said. Exactly how the army was going to win the war with baseball bats wasn’t clear to me either. We got a penny balloon once at a church party. We played with it until it was two rubber molecules stretched together because we would never get another one while the war was on. I thought “If we’re trying to whip the enemy with penny balloons we’re dead,”

When we went to the movies at the old Star Theater the only things in the candy counter were cough drops. The soldiers needed the candy bars. Apparently soldiers didn’t get coughs. That was fine. We were happy to do our little part for liberty. I did wonder about the safety of the product. On the box it said they were made with glycerin. On the playground we made our make-believe bombs out of nitroglycerine. That’s what they used in the war people said. I finally guessed it must be the nitro part that explodes since none of our stomachs ever blew up in the middle of the movie.

Nitro or glycerin or whatever, we patriotically spent our nickel on the cough drops. Using the imagination of childhood, we could almost believe they were candy. The Smith Brothers, Trade and Mark as they were known on the box, made cough drops that tasted like licorice on steroids. They were too strong for my taste. I would not encounter that taste again until a decade later when someone gave me the little black pellets known as Sen Sens. They were supposed to counteract halitosis which we were deadly afraid of in our teen age years. I never quite hooked into Sen Sens either. They tasted too much like Trade and Mark Smith, and if you were not careful with your imagination they looked like mouse droppings. I have no idea what mouse droppings taste like. Even during the war we had our limits.

I would suck a box of Smith Brothers if that was the only thing left in the candy (cough drop) counter. But I much preferred Ludens’ cherry flavor if they were available. I ate so many Ludens that I’m surprised I’ve ever had to cough the rest of my life.

Once at the movies they had some little round balls of chewy cherry flavored stuff. These used to be rolled in ground up nuts I was told. But because there was a war going on when we got them they were covered with corn flakes. My parents thought this was very clever of the manufacturers when I brought them home a bite. I wondered why nuts would help defeat the Germans but corn flakes wouldn’t.

I learned later about a famous heroic army unit that was surrounded by the Germans at Bastogne France in the Battle of the Bulge. The German commander sent a message of surrender or death to the American troops. The American General McAuliffe replied courageously back to him, “Nuts!” I thought at the time maybe this was the reason that my cherry candy bars had been rolled in corn flakes. But I could never quite put it all together. If you think about it though, it would have been much less heroic and quotable for General McAuliffe to tell the Germans, “Corn Flakes!”

My father got a notice of the draft but he was never called up. Bad eyes and family kept him out of uniform. I heard him say now and then to his friends, “I wouldn’t mind being in the service. You get to travel and see new places.” He also said, “I wouldn’t mind being killed, but I wouldn’t want to get half killed.” I thought that was a workable philosophy.

His statement didn’t send me into shock. I think I was too young to imagine what life would be without my father. And also the war was a long way away from my world. But that was because my world was confined to me and my little circle of understanding. Actually the war was very close. It invaded our little town as it did every town and city in America. Harley Griggs had lived up the street two blocks west and left up the hill a block and a half. I never knew him, but I remember his name being included in conversations at the dinner table.

One of the stories had it that Harley’s brother Ted was fighting on the ground in Europe. He looked up to see a squadron of B29 Superfortresses heading back to England after a bombing run over Germany. One of the planes was limping along with half its tail shot away. The Plexiglas bubble in which the tail gunner sat had been shot off. Ted flinched. That was Harley’s spot in the Air Force. He wondered and worried. Later on his worries were confirmed.

War can be capricious as well as cruel. But I didn’t figure that out either until later. I just knew that our next door neighbor Leon Bjarnson was killed in the war. Many years later researching the history I learned Leon survived the war. But Americans were so anxious to get the boys home someone wasn’t quite careful enough. The plane he was coming back in flew into a mountain in France killing everybody.

As I studied the weekly paper The Payson Chronicle researching those years of 1940 to 1945 it seemed every issue had somebody’s son dead or missing. I’m thinking there may have also been a shortage of handkerchiefs for drying tears in our town because there was a war going on.