Born in 1937, I was a homefront child. My father went into the Army in late 1942 and returned three years later; we had all changed a lot in the interim. I remember many things about wartime: pulling my wagon around the block and collecting bundles of old newspapers, playing war games in the lot next to our house in Detroit, and sitting with my mother in the kitchen listening to the war news on the radio. Both radio and the movies were important parts of my homefront world. Monday through Friday, there were the late-afternoon radio adventure shows in which American heroes pursued enemy spies and saboteurs. And I remember trying never to miss a Saturday matinee at the Norwest, our local movie theater; for three to four hours, the war was a frequent theme in feature films, cartoons, serials, and newsreels.
When we were not playing war in the side lot, we were doing so on the playground of the Peter Vetal School, three blocks from my home. At Vetal, there was a deep division between the middle-class children and the working-class children. In large part, we in the middle class lived on one side of the school, while blue-collar families, including recent arrivals from the southern Appalachians, lived on the other side. I got to know Tommy Fields, whose family had moved to Detroit from Kentucky. We were in the same class, and I visited his house on the other side of the school; I do not think he ever visited mine, but I never thought about it at the time.
Looking back, I see that during the war my little brother George and I lived in a family of women headed by my mother, grandmother, and older sister Susan. Ours was a peaceful household and, from my perspective, a happy one. But I wondered what our lives would be like when my father returned home, and I wondered what he would be like. I did have a V-mail Christmas card that he sent me in 1944 from France, picturing Santa Claus driving a Jeep filled with presents; but I had few memories of him.
In the autumn of 1945, my father re-entered our lives. Forty years old and a major, he arrived sporting both a mustache and the Legion of Merit, which he had earned for his two years as a combat thoracic surgeon in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany. The more I think about my father's service, particularly in light of what we later learned about the horrors of battle in Vietnam, the more I appreciate the psychic toll which the war took on him.
I was seven when my father came home. Because I had not really known him before he left for the Army, I could not tell how the war had affected him. My father for whom I am named was loud and regaled in storytelling; he liked to laugh, and I enjoyed him when he was having fun. Around him, however, I was usually very shy; I was an outgoing boy and very active, but I think he scared me. We had missed important years together, and we never bridged the gap. My father