WAR HEROES AND OTHER GODS

Discussion in 'Vietnam Stories: By John H. Wilborn' started by Guest, Feb 26, 2003.

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    high2fly
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    (11/15/02 5:39:16 am)
    Reply WAR HEROES AND OTHER GODS
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    It was a bone-chilling, cold and gloomy day. The extremely large, ceiling tall windows, on the
    north side of the school house, were frosted over, and only small sections of the windows center
    were clear. The students and teacher in that 6th grade classroom, could look out the clear section
    of window onto the small town of Greeley, Iowa. The heavy, black coal smoke which was
    emitting from the brick smoke stack, bespoke the fact that the old janitor, Charlie Croyle, was
    really ?pouring the coal to the Old Girl? this day, in a valiant attempt to warm the school and the
    150 or so students who attended its hallowed halls.

    The old SESSIONS school clock, high on the wall at the front of the classroom, ticked on, ever
    so slowly. If anyone walked around in the room, the squeak and protesting sounds of the
    hardwood floors, seemed in direct proportion to the weight of the stroller. The class teacher,
    Miss Hermann, who was not yet out of her teens on this, her first teaching assignment, had given
    the students a reading period while they waited for their honored guest to show up. The girls in
    the class were very lady like and refined acting as they waited---the boys however, were fiditity
    and disheveled and some downright, ill-mannered. The odor of wet mittens, drying out on the
    hot radiators, permeated the already stale smelling room. The overpowering smell of young,
    unwashed bodies and feet, lent their distinctive aroma. An hour earlier, a heavy dinner had been
    served up in the schools cafeteria, and the still agreeable smells of the chocolate pudding dessert,
    seemed to be the only pleasant smells to be detected.

    The time was the week before Christmas, 1944. War was raging on both the worlds major
    fronts. Off in Nazi occuppied Europe, the mighty armies of good and evil reeled in deadly
    combat. The Germans had a launched horrific counter-offensive against the Allied armies that
    was being called the Battle of the Bulge and warriors from both sides, were dying or freezing to
    death in the intense winter that had the entire continent of Europe in it?s throes. War in the
    Pacific, was being waged valiantly against the heathen hoards of slant-eyed non humans from the
    Island of the Rising Sun, as our American Forces hopscotched from one island to another deadly
    island across the lenght and breadth of the Pacific Ocean.

    Back on the homefront, school children did all they were asked to do for the war effort---that and
    more. There were scrap metal drives, used cooking grease drives, paper drives. About any and
    everything that was collected was promised for a real, bonified war effort. The children would
    sing patriotic songs and write Victory Letters to local serviceman. One time the children were
    asked to go out into the swampy areas nearby and collect milk weed pods. About as a
    disgusting a chore never could be thought of when the syrupy, white fluid called ?milk? for a
    better name, got all over the hands and clothing and faces. In fact, if one was not careful
    damage could be done and it was almost impossible to get off skin or clothes. Kerosene, from
    the lamps and stoves, finally was discovered as a good removal solvent.

    The 6th grade class at Greeley Consolidated School had won acclaim on so of their many worthy
    collections for the war effort. Miss Hermann told the children more than a few times, how very
    proud she was of them, and how proud they should be of themselves. Around the 6th grade
    class room, there were always bags or boxes of some junk or other---burlap gunny sacks from the
    farms, were always filled and overrunning with junk and trash and collectibles.

    Today there was going to be a very important person come to the school. In high expectation,
    the students and even the teachers, were beside themselves with anticipation. A real American
    Hero was coming to visit this tiny Iowa school. The schools principal had promised that the 6th
    grade room would be honored with the heroes presence first, and from there, the hero would be
    escorted upstairs to the assembly hall to speak with all the students and other town dignitaries.

    During the entire war effort there had been War Bond drives. The battle cry had become, BUY
    A BOND--WIN A WAR. Of course in this tiny Midwestern town, buying war bonds was not
    always possible, so another more appropriate battle cry was born to fit tighter budgets, BUY A
    WAR STAMP---MAKE A BOND---YOU TOO CAN HELP WIN THE WAR.

    The war hero who was coming to visit this date, lived over in Wisconsin someplace--a little town
    that must not have been far away from Greeley because his military party was driving over to
    Iowa. He had been brought back to the states from someplace in the Pacific to sell war bonds
    and to make public appearances and speaking engagements. Today was the Greeley 6th graders
    turn---then the entire Greeley Consolidated Schools turn. We had read and made current events
    reports about this man--this war hero. The last big hero worship Iowa had, had been the
    Sullivan Brothers who?s hometown was nearby Waterloo---all five Sullivan brothers had perished
    early in the war when their ship, the USS JEANU had been sunk by a lurking, Japanese
    submarine.
    Not much could be said for radio news in those days, but there was the MANCHESTER
    PRESS, the CEDAR RAPIDS GAZETTE or the DE MOINES REGISTER & TRIBUNE for
    the students to garner news from and make required reports assigned by your teachers.

    Roy Cornwell shot a paper wad at Lewie Goranson---John Bockensted passed a note to Joan
    Moorman---Ethel Cornwell threatened her brother Roy, that she was going to tell their Daddy
    about the rubber band shooting when they got home. Miss Hermann called John Wilborn to the
    front of the room to wait for the hero. He had been chosen by his class to be introduced as the
    class representative to the war hero. Joyce Smock asked permission to go to the
    bathroom----Miss Hermann rolled her eyes and inquired was it necessary right now--could it
    wait---Joyce got really embarrassed and red faced, but she slid really low in her seat and
    whispered a scarcely audible, ?YES?.

    Sounds out in the hall and down at the entrance of the school. Opening of doors and a loud
    stomping of feet---many feet, and lots of talking and laughing. Miss Hermann told John to go
    stand by the door and ease it open ever so slightly and peek out, then inform her as to what was
    happening. John had barely cracked the door open and inch when he saw an array of khaki
    uniforms. The war heroes had arrived at Greeley Consolidated School and they were talking and
    laughing just like kids. John opened the door and invited the war hero, Richard Bong and his
    accomplice to enter. Major Bong had a lower ranked, Army Air Force aide with him and they
    were both accompanied by the principal---how else would he have know the plans and routine of
    this visit had he not been versed by Mr. Melberg.

    The war hero just didn?t seem big enough in a kids eyes to be a hero---why do you suppose that
    was? Close-cropped blond hair, sky blue eyes, and complexion as pale as a baby, fresh from the
    bath. Major Bong carried his garrison hat under his arm. He spoke his salutations in a voice that
    was so low, the children had to strain to hear his otherwise pleasant voice. The war hero told the
    6th graders that he really didn?t feel he had done anything one of them wouldn?t have done---that
    the seemingly menial little tasks they had done for the war effort, was just as important as his
    doing his duties at the front lines. Miss Hermann?s normally well-modulated and sometimes
    cranky voice, sounded so very syrupy sweet when she said something to the Major about the
    children knowing who real heroes were.

    Mr. Truesdale told the Major that the entire school assembly was waiting for him to address them
    upstairs, so with the principal and the hero leading off, the entire 6th grade and Miss Hermann
    followed along behind the notables up the stairs to the assembly hall. The guests and the
    students stood and offered up resounding applause, as the Arny Air Force Major and Mr.
    Truesdale took their eats up on stage. The applause eventually bled off and the sounds of
    coughing and chatter eased as students settled into their seats.

    Major Bong?s Army aide took to the podium to introduce this honored war hero. A bit of history
    as to the heroes boyhood days back in Poplar, Wisconsin. The Army aide-de-camp told of Major
    Bong?s parents being Swedish immigrant farmers in the area---the boyhood dreams of the young
    Richard Bong to fly. Then with World War II coming to pass, that opportunity presented itself .
    The assembled students and teachers and invited guests were spellbound---coughing and stirring
    around silenced---the sights and the sounds and the smells now replaced with the rapt attention
    of listening and hearing.

    Probably every young man in that audience visualized himself a hero that day---flying in the flak
    filled skies in the fabulous, twin tailed P-38 LIGHTENING fighter, dueling in dogfights
    unknown or unparelled in the history of airwar. How expert and valiant this unpretentious young
    pilot had so gloriously flown as he fought and destroyed 40 enemy aircraft. This small looking
    young officer, who seemed as if he could be one of this schools students himself, here in
    Greeley?s assembly hall, so very humble and unassuming. The aide continued to read of this
    war heroes exploits. He told how General Douglas McArthur, had only recently awarded this
    hero the Congressional Medal of Honor---how it was a fact that even the enemy pilots had told
    stories of this pilots unbelievable feats---how they called his aircraft ?the Devil with two tails?.
    And can you not suppose, that the young girls and ladies listening to this handsome young
    warrior of the air, were not touched and titillated with some feminine feelings that day.

    Oh yes, it was a prize of prizes, a day of days, but ending all too soon. Major Bond finally got
    up and spoke. He was soft-spoken, almost to a fault, as those lsiteners at the back of the
    assembly, had to strain to hear this young and handsome and blond, Knight of the Sky, again
    reaffirm his modesty and his willingness to accept he had been ?at the right place at the right
    time?.
    Oh, but the unbelievable applause and cheering when the presentation was over----outside cold
    and dreary, but inside Greeley?s School assembly, warmth and camaraderie beyond compare.
    The kids remained in their seats very respectfully as the elders departed the large assembly hall.
    What a day it had been!!! Later, as the students would depart for the day, some riding the cold
    old schoolbus to the outlying farms, and the town children, walking home, chances are every one
    would remember the day and it?s memorable events.

    Later, back in the 6th grade classroom, it took a while for the students to settle down. Roy
    Cornwell had made up an ugly verse---Roy was not a very good student---always in Dutch with
    the teachers---classmates, who were about 13 years old, whereby Roy was past 16. ?MAJOR
    BONG, BEAT YOUR DONG?------ Roy exclaimed in a sing-song voice. You could hear Joan
    Moorman suck in her breath---Miss Hermann beat her hickory ruler across her desk and shouted
    to Roy that he was being very disrespectful. Roger Woeste, already six foot six in height, who
    was standing in back of the poet, Roy Cornwell, yanked up on the suspenders of Roy?s
    OSHKOSH BGOSH overalls. Woeste used to do that to a lot of us shorter guys---he called it
    ?riding the rail?---you really hated to have your overalls yanked up your butt like that but Roger
    was the man--the boss---he could do pretty much what he wanted to do.

    It would be later, actually the next year I recall---I think a different grade in fact, when we
    received word that our quiet, unassuming war hero, who had come to visit us kids had been
    killed. Not to be killed in a raging air battle, as one could but make happen in a fictional story
    mind you, but piloting a new type aircraft with a strange name called a jet plane.

    Sure enough though, here six decades later in my life, as we prepare to celebrate and participate
    in Veteran?s Day, we still have heroes amongst us---around us---and those heroes in the future,
    yet to step forth in time of need, as heroes have always done. Wilborn sends.



    Edited by: high2fly at: 2/13/03 2:17:07 pm