Note you all: This is a long read, and you do have to read it all. As long as it is, it really does encapsulate WWII…..Growing up myself, I heard very little war stories by my dad, uncles, and any man who fought in WWII. What few stories I heard were the good parts…seems at the time, most men either spoke little to nothing of their service, or if they did it was the happy times and not the bad times. Same with the Korean Conflict.
My father owned a gorgeous porcelain tiger about half the size of a house cat. He kept it on a shelf in our family den, where for years when I was a kid it roared down at us — unappeasably furious (or so I always thought) at being trapped up there on its high perch, with no company except some painted beer mugs and a set of purple glass swizzle sticks. Then one day it got broken; I don’t remember how. Probably my brother and I were having a skirmish and a shot went wild. I thought my father would be furious, but he didn’t say a word. Carefully, almost reverently, he wrapped up the tiger and the shards of its shattered leg and put them away in a box in the basement.
A long time later, years after my father died, my mother and my wife found the box when they were clearing out some old family junk. My wife knows how much I like big cats and all other varieties of predators and raptors, and she painstakingly glued the tiger back together and gave it to me as a present. It’s roaring at me again as I write this: it stands on a shelf in my study, surrounded by what I hope is more congenial company — grimacing windup monsters, maddened dinosaurs, a couple of snarling dragons with their wings outspread, and a sullen rubber shark opening wide to take a bite at passersby. The tiger seems to fit right in, but I sometimes suspect it feels shanghaied. My father hadn’t got it because he was fond of tigers or because he had any interest in nature. He’d bought it in Korea, where he’d been a fighter pilot during the Korean war; his squadron had been called the Flying Tigers.
My wife hadn’t known that; I barely remembered it myself. My father didn’t like telling war stories. He’d accumulated fistfuls of medals over there, and he kept them stashed in an anonymous little plush case at the back of his closet, where they went unseen for decades. That was all part of the past, and he had no use for the past. He used to wave off any question I asked about the world before I was born, irritatedly dismissing it as if all of that were self-evidently too shabby and quaint to interest a modern kid like me. “It was a long time ago,” he’d always tell me, which was as much as to say, “It’s meaningless now.”