You can say what you want about boys, but they have their virtues. When the Farm Security folks showed up with their cameras during the Great Depression, a young boy would smile for a shot even though he was barefoot and standing on gravel with chicken droppings all around him.
If you’ve ever gone barefoot in an area where chickens had “done their thing” you know what I am talking about.
There is something about those smiling faces in the photos. We see lads appearing not to nave a care in the world, dressed out in their best overalls and hats, faces probably scrubbed before the posing, and the signs of a meager living at best all around them. It’s hard to imagine that they had any hope but for futures of long hours of backbreaking work in the hot summer sun or winter snow. How could one smile in such disarming manner?
These were the boys that, in a few short years, would—side by side with their city brothers—storm the beaches at Normandy, fight their way up Mount Suribachi, fly suicide missions in B-17 raids over Berlin, or destroy the Japanese fleet at Midway.
They were the boys who, after the war, would help build America into the greatest economic power on the planet.
They are dying off at an alarming rate now. They abandoned the regimental reunions a few years ago due to the frailties of old age. Days spent at work or in combat are but distant memories—for those who have any memories at all left.
My own father-in-law, Julius Cole, was one of those. Gone now for nearly 14 years, he had marched across France, Belgium, and Germany with the 79th Infantry Division, fighting all the way. When, after VE Day, they deactivate that division, they transferred him to the First Division, the “Big Red One,” We still have that patch, along with his Purple Heart and his Combat Infantry Badge, that most honored relic of a wartime veteran.
If the war had continued, the Big Red One would certainly have been in the first wave to land on Japanese soil, as it had been on the soil of France, carrying all those fine young boys, who had once smiled for the camera, to their end.
Things would have turned out differently had the war not ended. He survived though, to share hundreds of stories with us across the supper table, like the time he and his youthful pals were taking turns trying to ride a young bull. When they all failed, one boy, probably not the brightest but certainly the boldest, allowed the others to tie his feet beneath the belly of the beast.
Boys will be boys, and it is a miracle that any of them ever reach manhood. You have to admit, though, you are glad so many of us do.
You do, don’t you?
“A mother takes twenty years to make a man of her boy, and another woman makes a fool of him in twenty minutes.” - Robert Frost