I’ve been watching snatches of Ken Burns’ new documentary on WWII. It is true Burns style with a lot of narrative. Also, a lot of real pictures, most of which I can’t look at. But the first hand stories are always interesting. One woman, with a lovely Alabama accent tells how toward the end of the war in Europe the ‘boys’ would come through Mobile on the train and she and a few of her friends would meet the train with sandwiches, doughnuts and coffee and the guys would get them from the windows as they held up their trays. One time, however, they started to get off the train and this storyteller says she threw her sandwiches and ran, because she knew they were going to kiss them! The doughnut girl did the same. They ran into the depot and locked themselves behind the door. Coffee was not so easy to toss and run and the coffee girl got soundly kissed!!!
Another man, who went into a Japanese POW camp in 1942, told how he was filling in a mass grave one day and he had two sets of dog tags, He decided to throw one in, so if anything happened to him, it would be deduced he had been there. Well, it was deduced he had been there and his parents were duly told and offered the standard insurance compensation of $10,000. His father asked if his son didn’t really die, would he have to give the money back and he was told yes. So he told them to keep their money because he didn’t think his son was dead. At the end of the war, when the son came back, he called home from San Francisco. His mother answered and when he said his name, she fainted. his aunt picked up the phone and she fainted, too. His older sister came to the phone and she followed suit. His father came and picked up the phone and said “Who the ____ is this?!” When his son replied he said, “Well, I knew you weren’t dead, but I’ve got 3 dead women who are going to want to talk to you, so if you hang on till I get them going on again, they’ll be right on.”
While there was a battle going on a Japanese beach a Naval officer was watching from the ship. He saw this one trooper going around with a flame torch, burning away, then he stops, goes down to the water, puts his weapon down, strips, goes for a swim, comes back, gets dressed, picks up his weapon and goes back to work. As though to say, I am going to die anyway, might as well enjoy a swim first! He was probably very stinking hot.
Ken Burns is always very educational and brings history into a realistic perspective and so there is a lot of stuff that is gut wrenching. I heard him say in an interview that after he had done the Civil War, he was never going to do another war because it is so emotionally gut wrenching, but then here is this generation of storytellers who are dying off and if their stories are not captured, they are lost. I thought it might well take 50-60 years to go back and talk about it as candidly as some have. And yet, for some of them, the memories are only a step away in their minds, they are burned so deeply.