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Child’s book of war

March 19, 2015

Grandparents Ellen and Carl Bonde in the 1920s or 1930s.

Grandparents Ellen and Carl Bonde in the 1920s or 1930s.

While researching my maternal uncle’s life I bought a copy online of a US Army infantry training manual published for use during WW II. In the early 1950s I had leafed through my grandmother’s copy when I had stayed for months with my grandparents. As my father died an agonizing death from brain cancer 120 miles away in Missoula. Daddy’s sister persuaded mother that I should avoid seeing him in his last days. Anyway, grandma tucked me away in their bedroom on a cot. She taught me how to say prayers at bedtime. Lord’s prayer and the “now I lay me down to sleep” prayer with the frightening line “if I should die before I wake.”
Anyway, I was the only child at their house, so I usually played with the cat where the heat came up from the wood furnace below. The smell of burning pine comforted me like the heat. They couldn’t watch me every minute. I had freedom to explore the bookcase that my late uncle Bud had constructed while in high school. The bookcase extended from floor to ceiling. Ceiling was at least 10 feet above the floor. My grandparents had many books. A few years later my brother had looked through all of them and found one from the mid-1800s, titled “Jan of the Windmills.” It was yellowed and raggedy and I never tried to read it. Not the way I read through Bud’s books about the Boy Scouts and the US Army.
I leaved through the infantry training book many times, perhaps daily. Here’s an excerpt from near the front of the volume concerning bayonet training:

It is an easy matter to teach the few, simple technical details of bayonet combat, but an instructor’s success in bayonet training will be measure by his ability to instill in his men the will to use the bayonet. This spirit is infinitely more intense than that displayed on the athletic field, and combined with confidence in the rifle and ability to shoot, constitutes the grim determination of the men on the firing line to close with and destroy the enemy. It is the overwhelming impulse behind every successful bayonet assault.

The last sentence in the bayonet section admonishes the instructor to prevent the soldiers from fencing with their rifles with bayonets.
Did I remember to tell you that once my grandpa died and grandma moved to Missoula I built a playhouse behind our garage out of plywood concrete forms I had removed from the Tremper’s shopping center under construction a few blocks away.
The roof leaked because I shingled it from the top down so that water ran beneath the layers and into the shack. Mushrooms and dampness on the grassy floor. My friends and I played doctor, learning the thrilling truth about each others’ bodies.
I left my grandma’s infantry training book there for the pages to wrinkle and develop the blue spots of mildew along with the characteristic cloying smell, so I threw it into the battered, lidless garbage can in the alley. I didn’t have to tell grandma, she easily figured it out. I remember being surprised that she valued the keepsake from Bud, her only son, killed by the German torpedo, Christmas Eve, 1944.

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