Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dialogue with Veterans

Duncan is in a class at co-op this semester called Dialogue with Veterans. It's a fantastic concept. The kids learn about various wars/conflicts in which the U.S. was involved, and then in the next week's session, a veteran from that particular war comes to class and talks with them.

This week's session was World War II, and my Dad was one of the two veterans invited to share their stories. Isn't he handsome? Looking at that photo, one would never guess that he is 88. He likes to joke that his army jacket has shrunk since he last wore it in 1964, but I think the fit is pretty impressive.

Dad, who was a forward observer with the 291st Field Artillery, was shipped to France in the fall of 1944. His first action was the Battle of the Bulge. The war in Europe ended, and he went back to the States with a 30-day leave, after which they were to join the upcoming assault on Japan. When he landed in the Boston harbor, newsboys met them on the docks shouting "Second Atomic Bomb Dropped on Japan!" Dad returned then to the University of Illinois.

Dad told several stories to the classes (one class was 3rd-5th graders, the other 6th-8th graders), including a couple that I had never heard before. The kids were riveted. The other veteran actually never saw combat; he was about to go to the Pacific when the bombs were dropped on Japan, so he spent the duration of his enlistment in Pearl Harbor after the war.

Here is one story Dad told that the kids loved. He's a great storyteller, so hearing it is better than reading it, but he's a good writer, too:


Oh, that was wonderful!!—that cascade of hot water on my dirty, achy body, just coming in from the farm this hot day.  Tired muscles relaxing, hurts washing away.  Wonderful shower—but not the best shower ever.  I remember the shower in that 4-star hotel in Italy?  Gold fixtures, super-soft water, and all those controls—great shower—but not the best  shower ever.  Or my very first shower.  In the basement of our house at Dix, off in the corner of the laundry room  Dad hooked up a couple of pipes and a little spray head, hooked it up to the wood stove water heater, and we had a shower, a truly awesome shower, so much better than standing in a zinc wash tub—but not my very best shower ever.  Showers in hotels, showers in motel rooms, showers in barracks, showers at school—all great, but not my best shower ever.
                  Best of all?  Nearly 70 years ago, February 1945, my outfit had been up on the line for four weeks, mostly supporting a battalion of Scots infantry, up on the line in Belgium and The Netherlands.  Snow and mud and brutal chilling cold.  A decent wash-up just not possible, to which our ripe aromas gave pungent witness.  Over-ripe bodies, tired-out, chilled bodies  tired all over.  We were called back from Vlodrop one morning, called back with all our fire control gear, radios, spotting binocs.  Called back to Sittard, down in the very south of Dutch Limberg.  Called back—and sent to the showers.
                  Showers?? Best in the world. Best ever. Very, very best showers ever. Huge GI tent. Wheel-in water boilers outside, steam rising. Steam rising from the tent too.  We filed in—clothes off, strip down, sort clothes—pants here, shirts there, sox here.  Naked bodies, all shivering in the cold Dutch air. Queue up, line of naked troopers, file forward, snail’s pace. Then at last we’re to the shower door -- inside were 12 shower heads, steaming water.  “You have 3 minutes, guys.”  Three minutes to chisel off, soap off, scrape off four weeks of grime.  Oh, glorious water!! How wonderful, this outpouring of water so hot it almost hurts! And then again the water sergeant—OK, that’s it — out you go.  Now it’s over, that tiny three minutes of bliss.  Clean clothes, new winter boots.  DDT dust squirted into our armpits, groin, up the pant legs.
                  Clean. So clean.
                  Best Shower Ever.


  1. This is a fantastic idea for a coop class. It gave me chills. My next door neighbor is a veteran of World War II and Korea and there are times he needs to tell his stories. I wish my children had an opportunity like this.

    Have you ever posted about how it was organized?


    1. I have not, Jessica. I am not teaching the class, but I can tell you roughly how it is organized, and I could have the teacher email you if you'd like. They start with an overview of whichever war they are studying. She has 2-4 students prepare a short (1 min) speech about a particular figure in that period (e.g., Winston Churchill). Prior to the interview class, the students come up with a list of possible questions for the veteran, which are emailed to him/her. But really--if you would like the teacher to give you a more thorough outline, I'm sure she would be happy to do so. My email is in the sidebar near the top if you just let me know.

  2. I would also love to hear how it was more organized, what an amazing idea for a class


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