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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Monday, August 15, 2016

Dunkirk was the Deciding Factor

I needed someone with whom to talk it over.  I would have called Elaine because, besides being a chatterbox, she was one smart little cookie; however, since I knew she was probably still peeved at me about bringing Shirley to the prom, I did not call.  Instead, after Dick left with the car, I got on my bicycle and pedaled off to 13th and Kauffman to see Patty Cross.  It was a warm spring evening and we sat on the concrete steps of the apartment.  I told her all about it and how I felt—omitting my wild idea about maybe going to the Naval Academy.
Patty did not have to, nor did I expect her to, advise me.  She simply listened patiently and let me get it all out.  Finally, she asked, “How long would you have to sign up for?”
“One cruise is six years.  Could have signed up for a short cruise—they call it a ‘diaper cruise’—if I had done it while I was seventeen, but it is too late for that.”
“Well,” she said as she snuggled against my shoulder, “six years is not all that long a time.  I would be out of high school before then and probably have a job.  Who knows what may happen?”
When Dick left to go back to Sa Diego four days later, I was still vacillating.  The day after that, while I was changing the women’s wear display in the window of the CC Store, I saw my old high school advisor, Louis Barter, walking up the street.  I scrambled out of the display window, told one of the clerks that I was taking a break, and caught up with Barter.  I invited him to have a beer with me at the Cave Tavern under the bank across from the store.
Over nickel glasses of beer, I told Barter my problem.  I ended by asking, “What do you think I should do, Mr. Barter?”
Barter brushed the beer suds off his sand little mustache, looked keenly at me, and said, “Look, Conrad, you want to be a naval officer and you want to fly.  The best thing for you to do is to get two years of college under your belt, then apply for the naval aviation cadet program.  Enlisting in the Navy in the hope of making the academy would be a long-shot gamble at best.”
It was not the answer I wanted to hear.  I could not see a possibility of making it to college in the near future.  I did not believe that we had two or three years before the United States would be forced into the war.  I thanked Barter, paid for the beer, and bought a package of Sen-Sen before I went back to the store.
Less than a week later my mind was suddenly made up.  I had gone to a movie at the Castle Theater.  The Lowell Thomas newsreel was devoted entirely to the debacle at a town called Dunkirk where the remnants of the British Army, under murderous fire from German guns and the Luftwaffe, was evacuated from the continent.  The newsreel closed with a scene of Adolf Hitler dancing a little jig of elation outside the railroad car at Versailles when the French capitulated.  The Nazis had full control of the continent of Europe.

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