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War Stories

by Sal Moriarty




 

I started writing songs after I heard Hank Williams. Bob Dylan

 

My dad was stationed in Berlin, Germany in 1952 and 1953. He was drafted and taken from his small hometown in Arkansas and shipped across the Atlantic to a place that was still, to a significant degree, a bombed out and cratered city. He was proud to serve, but not particularly impressed with the job. Once, as a child, I asked him what he did in Germany.


“Sat around and ate baloney sandwiches,” he answered, dead serious.


I had uncles on both sides of the family who fought in The Great War, a decade or so before my dad arrived in Europe. They were not interested in discussing their military service either, but for different reasons. One of my uncles, my mom's brother (and a hero of mine), had fought in the south Pacific. I heard about his exploits there from my mom. When the war ended, I was told, he got pretty hammered in a port somewhere, commandeered a motorcycle and jumped it from the shore onto the ship. Steve McQueen stuff. I thought it was awesome.


My uncle, however, was not prone to self-aggrandizement (he would not fit in well in our 21st century America) and I stepped lightly where the war was concerned. I asked him one morning, while we were sitting alone together, if he'd ever seen a kamikaze.


“Yeah,” he answered, drinking his coffee. “I saw a few.”


That was it. After the war, he would behave normally for years, then disappear for two weeks on a bender. The best of the men who fought that war behaved differently than men do now. Almost certainly not good for them in the long run, but maybe only men and women like that are what is required to destroy ambitious maniacs.


So, stories I heard about the military service of my elders was scarce, but I do have a favorite.


It was New Year's night, 1953, and my dad was pulling guard duty. One can imagine what it was like for a depression-era country boy to be living and working with men from all over America (and the world; you didn't want to get him started on what it was like working with the French army). He formed opinions that lasted a lifetime based on those interactions with the other young draftees.


In later years, he was never crazy about Missouri (an adjacent state to his beloved Arkansas) because he had been in the army alongside some Missourian he considered to be an obstinate jerk (it is the Show-me state). He always thought fondly of people from Detroit, and Michigan in general. First, my dad was a car guy and at that time Detroit was the epicenter of all things cars in the world; but also, he was in Berlin with a couple Detroit guys who were fascinated by his stories about the creeks and woods of southern Arkansas. If you had a fondness for Arkansas, you were in with my dad.


Then, there was the soldier in his unit from New Jersey. An older guy named – get this – Hunky Nuneviller.


Guard duty, to hear my dad tell it, was a colossally boring task. The men did not covet the duty and looked for any way possible to avoid it. This particular night, my dad was standing outside, doing whatever was required of guard duty in post-World War II Germany. He did not like the cold and was, he told me decades later, especially homesick for Arkansas and America.


It was then the man from New Jersey, Hunky Nuneviller, made his appearance.


There was small talk, but mostly they stood silently together.


Finally, Hunky sighed and said, “I'm taking guard duty for you, kid.”


Later, my dad speculated the reason they had stood in silence so long was because Hunky was trying to decide whether this hick from Arkansas (my dad's words) was worth the trouble.


“Your boy died,” Hunky finally said. “They're playing his music on Armed Forces Radio.”


“What?”


“Hank Williams died today,” Hunky said. “Get out of here before I change my mind.”


My dad went to the barracks that night and listened to everything and anything they had to play of 'ol Hank. He never forgot it and he never forgot Hunky Nuneviller.


My dad was an old school Ronald Reagan conservative. That, and being from a rural southern state, ensured he cast a skeptical eye toward anyone or anything coming from the northeast of these United States. That was the case till the day he died in 2021. All that said, best watch your step if casting aspersions on New Jersey. Talk all you wanted about New York (especially, New York City), but not New Jersey.

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