Albert Jesikiewicz, Paris, 1945
Saturday September 22. 2001
the war then, the war now
A couple months ago, before all this, I was home in Lebanon, and we were having a family get together. My grandparents were there, and Grammy and I somehow got to talking about my grandfather and his war reunions. I knew the war reunions. I think they had went somewhere in the UK for one many years ago, and of course I remember "The Legion", the dark, musty pub where we went for parties, and where Pop-Pop hung out with his war buddies. I was frequently bored, eating the stale mints and begging for a high seat at the bar so I could see the TVs. I vaguely remember coat racks, running up and down concrete stairs and the metal and leather folding chairs piled high in each room.
"He was only 17 when he was drafted," Grammy told me that day. "Can you imagine 17 year olds today doing that?" I thought of all the boys I knew when I was 17. I couldn't. It seemed strangely prophetic that we talked about that then, only a month or so before all of this happened.
So I was home again in Lebanon this weekend, and my Dad almost immediately sat me down in the front of the television to see Band of Brothers, which of course, he had been taping. We watched with his running commentary. He frequently paused the tape and excitedly explained the background information he had read from the book I gave him. I watched, half-sickened. I discovered I still have no stomach for war movies. Even less now. The last thing I need to see right now are bodies being blown apart, even if it's just on TV.
As we were watching, my Mom said, "That was Pop-pop. He was right there when it all happened, right in Normandy." I squinted suddenly back at the TV. Tried to imagine his 17 year old face there. 17 years old is still a kid these days. It was still a kid in those days. And that's what these "soldiers" were - just kids. Kids from the midwest, kids who grew up on a farm, kids who maybe had never left their hometown. That they had to face this, not only face this but come out on the other side okay, go back home, get a job, get married, have kids, have grandkids...I have no words for it. Except that realization made what happened on September 11th, however terrible, seem very very small.
War in the 1940s is obviously very different from what a war would be like today. That was before the nukes, before the fighter jets flying at Mach 5, before defense satelites. When all you could do is dive into a foxhole, fire your gun and pray to god you'll survive. Maybe it will be fought from the sky, maybe not as many will die, but I don't want another one of those. Maybe this TV show was a little too real, maybe I'm taking it too seriously, or maybe I have a serious lack of so-called patriotism, but I don't want a war. I don't want revenge. I realize that won't happen, of course, and I understand why people feel it's necessary. But I can't see how killing more people is going to make the killing of other people hurt any less.
I try to imagine my sister's friends, ages 16 and 17 and 18, being drafted into the army. I think of all the 12 and 13 and 14 year olds I know and wonder if this war, whatever it turns out to be, will last long enough for them to be drafted. And then I try to imagine my grandfather, my Pop-Pop, a 17 year old from Plains, Pennsylvania, landing on the beaches of France in 1944. I wonder how he felt. Was he scared? Did he think he was going to die? Did he look up at the sky and wonder if this was his last day on earth? I keep thinking of that first scene in Saving Private Ryan, when they're on the barges heading toward land. It's morning and all the men are deadly quiet. One of them is so overwhelmed he throws up. I can't get that out of my head. And I'm scared it's going to happen all over again.
One Year Ago:
"I had rediscovered a friend, a lover, a soulmate."
Two Years Ago:
Weekend with the pyscho from Miami.