The reverberation of the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor echoed through the world. Like thousands of other men after the attack, the draft was irrelevant, the sooner he could report for duty, the better. Raised as a Mennonite, James parents thought otherwise. They had assumed he would apply for conscientious objector status, they thought wrong. The last 24 years he had lived within the peaceful confines of his family, their beliefs not entirely his own. Somehow this raging war that would take so many lives, had freed him to live his own. What he hadn’t expected was failing his medical exam at the Military Entrance Processing Station. The ear aches he had suffered as a child left permanent damage, holes in his eardrums, the wounds keeping him from the front lines. He had heard the doctor loud and clear, status F-4, not fit for military service.
It didn’t take long for him to find the nearest bar. It wasn’t his first drink and it wouldn’t be his last. As the hours passed, the bar filled with new recruits. Ashamed, he played the game, joining in their conversations about when and where they were to report for duty. Ultimately, knowing the only thing he wasn’t doing besides serving his country was going home. His parent’s prayers had been answered at his expense.
The next day arrived early, bright and loud. He wasn’t the only one who had taken refuge in the alley. He recognized many of the new recruits and decided to move on before they talked him into sharing a ride to basic training. The smell of coffee and bacon led him to the corner diner. The waitress never spoke, just filled his coffee and took his order. Waiting for his meal he scanned the morning newspaper. Tucked between an article on Eleanor Roosevelt and how to plant a victory garden, there was an article on Willow Run near Detroit, Michigan. He remembered hearing about Willow Run, they were cranking out B-24 Liberator planes faster than they could be shot down. There were three words in the article that mattered, “Apply in person.”
By noon he was sleeping on a bus headed toward Willow Run. He awoke about two hours in when the bus stopped to pick up more passengers and fuel. The town, if you could call it that, was a general store with a gas pump and a bus stop. Like most passengers, he got off the bus when the driver said it would be their only scheduled stop. Waiting in line to pay for his Coca Cola he felt a tug on his pant leg. It was a little girl, new to words and walking she smiled up at him, “Da da.” The next girl he heard wasn’t smiling or talking, she was running into the store, screen door slamming behind her and yelling, “Alice! Alice! Where are you?”
To be continued…..