There have been many books written on the subject of World War Two; the battles, dates, generals, strategies, horrors. The socio-political-economic impact on the European and World communities, the incredible advancement of technology and medicine; all this has been documented and discussed at great length. And chances are none of this scholarly outpouring will prevent Mankind from indulging in future wars. So what is the point of this scrapbook? What’s different about what I might have to say?
This is MY story; an attempt at making sense of the ‘worm’s eye view’ I had in the decade of my life that was directly affected by WWII. The rest is HIStory, or rather their story… the dates, places, battles, etc, that make up a ‘true history’ book. This scrapbook deals with an entirely different matter; an individual combat infantryman’s personal experiences, memories and motivations in the greatest war our planet has known. An attempt to remember and talk about the things a Soldier can never talk about. To share the thoughts, feelings, pictures, artifacts and horrors that made up my world… a world that was at war.
I enlisted in the US Army in the spring of 1941. I was 27, and had already been trying to get myself over to Europe for several years to fight Fascism. A lot of my closest friends had gone to Spain to fight in the International Brigade; most never returned from that lost cause. They spilled their life’s blood on foreign soil, fighting evil ideas that were soon to embroil the entire planet in turmoil. And in some ways they were prophetic in their youthful vigilance.
I was no stranger to desperate means and measures, growing up in the racial melting pot of New York City’s Lower East Side, in the 1920’s and 30’s. When only 9 or 10, I had joined a street gang in order to protect myself from the older kids’ gangs; we’d go to school an hour early, sometimes balancing on planks across the tenement rooftops, just to avoid getting beat-up by them. I remember during prohibition, delivering milk bottles full of bathtub booze to speakeasies and mob hangouts; the bottles were painted white to look full of milk, I’d get paid a whole nickel for each delivery! I witnessed the gang wars and Mob hits, the death from disease and privations of the depression. Sometimes we’d go fishing for bananas in the east river, huge bunches would fall off the ships when unloading, we’d fish ‘em out with an improvised hook or net, to the delight of the burly dock workers.
And of course there were long summer days at Brighton Beach or Coney Island, with hotdogs, swimming, and handball, and eventually when I got older, girls! I hung out with a pretty Left crowd, it seemed everyone was political in those days (even my little brother Bernie!); Socialists, Communists, Zionists; there were daylong discussions about Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Franco, Lenin, etc. I kept pretty much center myself, until things began to really heat up in Europe.
The girls were always ‘recruiting’ for various groups, it was a time of easy virtue, and you could get lucky by carrying the right newspaper! My Folks were political too, Mom was a garment union organizer, and Pop, an inventor and watchmaker, was always spouting aphorisms such as “Religion is the Opiate of the Masses”…