War in Europe erupted. Hitler’s panzer “blitzkrieg” rolled over Poland and England and France declared war. It was a “paper war” for a time with British bombers dropping only leaflets over enemy territories. Then Hitler attacked and his seemingly invincible goose-stepping Wehrmacht and panzers rolled into the Lowlands and started driving the British Expeditionary Forces toward a little town on the Belgian coast called Dunkirk.
Although the U.S. remained neutral and was still divided by isolationist and pacifist policies, American industry stirred and began cranking out the materials of war that would be convoyed to England on a “Lend-Lease” program. We became “the arsenal of democracy” and the last vestiges of the Great Depression were wiped out by rising employment.
Unhappily for those such as Mr. DeYoung, my little editorial was being proven right on the mark. The bumbling and ineffective Nevile Chamberlain was replace by Winston Churchill as England geared for war and for possible invasion once Hitler’s forces rolled through France and stood on the shores of the English Channel.
A personal tragedy awaited me in the spring of 1939. As the war in Europe gained momentum, I became always more and more determined to get into the Navy. I turned seventeen on March 3rd and decided the time had come to take the plunge and enlist. I had inquired and knew that I could sign up then and leave for boot camp right after graduation.
My good friend Dave Daniel’s family had moved away to Rainier, Oregon, the previous fall andI had begun to pal around with Kenneth David, a genial tall, black-haired boy who lived on a farm east of Vancouver. I did not really want to join the Navy alone so, without mentioning my ambition about the Naval Academy, I told Kenny that I was going to join the Navy.
Being a happy-go-lucky type, Kenny declared that was a great idea. He would like to see the world so he would sign up with me. The only problem Kenneth had was that he had turned a tractor over on himself the year before and he walked with a decided limp. He was fit enough to play football, however, and figured that would not be a problem.
One Friday in April, we were out of school because of a teachers’ conference. Kenny and I caught the Portland bus (the old interurban trolley had been abandoned), found the Federal Building, and marched into the third-floor Navy recruiting office. We filled out all the papers then they took us separately for physical examinations. Being still toughened by those years on the farm and heaving those bales of hay, I breezed through the physical until I got to the dental part.
When I was about twelve years old, one of my molars on the upper right side developed a big cavity—in fact, it was half rotted away. Instead of trying to fill it or make a crown (Dad did not have the money for that sort of thing), the dentist in Greenfield simply pulled it leaving a gap in my teeth. I was accustomed to it and could chew on that side as well as the other. (As a matter of fact, that gap is still there. I never did have a bridge installed.)
I still believe that part of the reason that I was rejected was that the Navy dentist was in a hurry. He was wearing golf clothes and a bag of golf clubs was propped inside the door of his office. He plunked me into the chair, started his examination, then tossed his tools onto the tray and said to the corpsman standing by, “Molar missing—not enough chewing surface on the right side—rejected.”
The dentist picked up the golf clubs and departed. The corpsman removed the neck cloth and said, “Too bad, Mac.” He handed me my papers with instructions to leave them at the recruiting desk on the way out.
I sat there in the chair stunned for a moment. It was a devastation blow. My plans were suddenly all down the tube. There would be no Navy white hat for me and no “Crackerjack” dress blues, not to speak of the coveted gold braid. I walked down the stairs and out of the building in a daze.
My glumness undoubtedly showed clearly. Kenny David was sitting on the concrete balustrade along the steps. He took one look at me and said, “Turned you down, huh?”
I nodded mutely and Kenny went breezily on, “Well, don’t worry about it. They turned me down, too. Said I had too much of limp in that leg that got caught under the tractor to march right. Told ‘em I didn’t know sailors had to march much but they turned me down anyway.
“Hey, the Army recruiting office is in there on the first floor. They aren’t as particular as the Navy, I hear. Let’s go join the Army.”
I shook my head. “No way, boy! Don’t want anything to do with the Army. Dad was in the infantry during the World War. I don’t want to be slogging around in the mud packing a rifle!”
I had very little to say during the dismal bus ride back across the Interstate Bridge to Vancouver.
For days I moped around and was not my usual ebullient self. I felt aimless and did not know what I wanted to do when school was out. My mother noticed, of course, and kept asking if I was sick. Richard had a different idea.
“Aw,” he said flippantly, “he probably thinks he is in love again. Old nipple-noggin there gets a crush on a new girl as often as I change my shirt! Who is it this time, bird-brain?”
I just smiled wanly and ignored my sarcastic brother. Patty Cross was the only one to whom I poured it all out. She could only sympathize but it got it off my chest. It was several days before I began to feel like myself again and started trying to make plans now that my little dream world had come crashing about my big ears.