Old Memories

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Two hours in the Scope watching the Virginia Arts Tattoo took me back 62 years to when I first put on a military uniform. It seems that nearly everyone in the stands there was my age and had to be very careful navigating the concrete steps with no railings to cling to. The lights went down and in they marched, bands from several countries and every branch of our military, resplendent in bright colorful shiny uniforms…how young they looked, and proud of their units as I was at 18. The drums and brass sent my pulse soaring, the gleaming rifles shined as had mine on that first day of basic training. That was not the case two years later for both the rifle and I were older and wiser, but not the same.

Some of that music brought tears, the sad ones like &uot;I’ll Be Seeing You.&uot; And there were happy tunes like, &uot;Don’t Sit Under That Apple Tree With Anyone But Me.&uot; And those apples eventually turned sour for thousands who received, &uot;Dear John&uot; letters a few months after they had shipped out. The Tattoo directors found some boy and girl soldiers able to handle the gyrations of our jitterbug days; watching them struck a young nerve still active in the old brain. Even watching expert drill teams brought memories of how hard we tried to match the timing and dexterity of older military men tossing and spinning their rifles in dazzling displays of confidence.

The bagpipes were still familiar because our unit served much combat time with the British 2nd Army in France and Belgium, how neat and clean they were compared to us and those pipers would stop at nothing. Night and day they played and I hoped the enemy was suffering from them as much as me. But in the Scope it was actually music to my ears. The kilts disappeared in the winter of 1944 and without them they were no different than the rest of us mud-slugging GIs. I talked to one &uot;mature&uot; American who was wearing the same ribbons on his hat as on one I have; he was 92, legally blind, aids in both ears; a small world, we were in Belgium at the same time and he called me &uot;boy.&uot;

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I had two kinds of feelings when German motorcycle units roared into the Scope arena, both were the thrilled kind of feelings where the hair stands up on the back of your neck. This time I was glad to see them, polished, professional, athletic, and in America carrying our flag. They carried theirs too but ours was in front. The world has changed since those days and I would have hugged these guys…still in green uniforms but the helmets were much different that they were in 1944.

It was a great feeling to be recognized by the Tattoo as old soldiers from back in World War II. There weren’t that many when we were asked to rise and be recognized…the list gets shorter by the day. Almost every day on TV I come across movies of that era but have yet to see my outfit. Shots of most of the so-called battles we were in made the movies but most only later when the generals showed up. My only surviving buddy and I made the trip to where the WW II archives are kept under lock and key. We found less than 10 pages of recorded information about our two years. That’s what happens when you are only a tiny part of 14 million who did their time in uniform. . But I can say this about the generals…they were always behind me, way behind.

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My kid brother has finished his consulting project in Iraq and headed home in one piece. I received an email from him this morning describing pitfalls of travel. No different than the problems encountered when flying anywhere in this country. &uot;It is morning April 27. Although I had a reservation, I lost my position and am wait-listed. I will go to the airport and try to get on the flight to Baghdad, again, and on to Jordan. If I do not, I will travel five hours in a three SUV convoy (drivers and gunners) to the Turkish border, then catch a 3 hour taxi ride to a Diyarbakir hotel, then find a plane the next day to a hotel in Istanbul, and, hopefully a Delta flight to JFK via Paris, probably. I will contact you from somewhere?&uot;

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Nothing personal here, but I have a suggestion that could eliminate a city cost equal to the total property taxes paid by 40 families whose property taxes are $2,000 each. Let me say that a bit differently…it takes 40 homeowners paying property taxes of two thousand each to pay the salary and benefits of one city employee who is often referred to as the city spokesman. In times of financial stress don’t you think that the city manager could handle that little item, or the mayor who loves that sort of thing? Then I’d count the heads at the Visitor Center, employed by our Department of Tourism. Oh, yes, there are others we would survive without but the objective is to spend every dollar coming in. I call it &uot;that desire to act like a big city&uot; syndrome. Or like the guy who drinks beer but keeps an expensive bottle of wine in the fridge for important drop-ins.

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at robert.pocklington@suffolknewsherald.com.