November 11, 2014

Veterans Day

I just got off the phone with my dad. He said the real heroes are the guys buried in Europe. The guys who never got home. I said, "That's Memorial Day." He knows. He wanted to tell me how he feels about it, is all.

Talking to him reminded me of a story I wrote.

Prom

I met my son at the downtown menswear store to pick up his senior prom tuxedo. Traditional black with a purple vest and long tie to compliment his date’s dress color. Other boys were already there, having walked ahead after school let out. When it was his turn to go with the salesman and throw on the uniform, I snapped a pic. Seventeen and dapper, smiling through braces, hand stylishly tucked in pants pocket. All that’s left is to pick up her flowers and take group pictures tomorrow.

His dad and I decided to chip in for a limo since the prom is at a hotel in another town and four couples want to travel together. Several hundred dollars per couple before most everyone leaves home for a college dorm.

My dad’s senior prom took place during WWII. Gasoline was rationed then, first as a recommendation and then by government decree. Other commodities rationed were meat, butter, sugar, coffee, tea, eggs, rice, soap, electricity, and clothing.

In high school, he had a job making deliveries for a local meat market. You had to have ration stamps to buy the gas that ran the delivery truck. Customers had to have stamps, based on family size, to buy the meat. Soup bones weren’t rationed. It wasn’t until 1954 that all such decrees were finally lifted. Besides rationing, there were war bonds. Sold everywhere, even at the high school, you would save and buy $18.25 worth of stamps to get a $25 bond.

Prom was held at the school's decorated gym and included a big band. The boys wore white tuxedo pants with blue jackets. The girls wore formal dresses. Teachers came, also dressed formally, to chaperone. Most all were single in those days – that’s the way it was. Because of the war, though, some married teachers were hired.

Traditionally, the class president led a grand march, forming an arch that all the couples walked under to start the dance. That year’s president was a Baptist so he couldn't take the floor. My dad, being a class officer, led the march with his date. He still has a picture. At 11 p.m., they went to her house with three other couples for a wonderful home-cooked meal. 

Within the week, all four boys left for the military and years away in WWII.

My dad explained that, at the induction center, guys would line up and the Army would take so many, the Navy so many, Coast Guard, and such. When he was in line, one of the selectors (an old Navy guy) recognized him and said, “I know that guy, put him in the Navy.”

A lot of boys dropped out of high school to join the military. Dad saying, “People don’t appreciate that the war was on and there was rationing. You couldn’t go on any trips or anything without the ration stamps to buy gas. And guys wanted to be a patriot, a hero.” He said a lot of people wanted to get into the Army Air Corps – now Air Force. You could almost always become a sergeant there. And get killed quickly, too.

My dad and his prom date wrote throughout the war. Those who could, came back to finish high school. As grown men.