I’m sure that everyone has heard the little jokes people make to tease someone about which parent they look like…or sometimes don’t. They might say something like, “You look like the milkman.” Of course, the indication is that the mother had an affair, but sometimes such a joke can backfire on the teller of the joke. When I say this, I am speaking from experience…not as an adult, but rather as a child. You see, my sister, Cheryl Masterson and I do look like the milk man…because the milkman was our dad. Of course our younger sisters do too, but he wasn’t a milk man when they were born.
During the early years of their marriage, my dad worked for a company called Twin Ports Dairy, in Superior, Wisconsin. Over the remaining years of his life, my dad held various other jobs, and the one I remember the best was when he was a welder, first for Fred Dewell company, and later for WOTCO. Both of these were in Casper, Wyoming. One of the ones that I found the most interesting was when he worked for Douglas Aircraft. This was before he was married, and before World War II. It was this job that qualified him to become the Flight Engineer on the B-17 Bomber. A man who worked building airplanes, would have a unique ability in that field. He also did work in the lumber yards and in the oil fields, prior to my parents marriage. In fact, he was working in the oil fields when he and my mother exchanged their wonderful love letters…which my sisters and I recently came across among their things. There are many parts to a man, and most men will do several types of work before settling on the one they will do for the rest of their life. My dad was no different, but in the end it would be the work that he did at the suggestion of his older brother, my Uncle Bill, that my dad would do the longest…welding. As World War II was progressing to the point of Americas necessary involvement, Uncle Bill was worried about his little brother, and he really hoped that his skill as a welder would keep my Dad on the home front, but it was his skill with airplanes that would win out in the end, and Dad would go to war…and thankfully come back home again.
All those parts of my dad…along with his deep love of family would make him into the person we all knew and dearly loved, but I think for my mom, its possible that the Milkman job was a personal favorite. After all, it kept him close to home, and it was a safe job for her husband and the father of her children. I think it was her favorite, because of all the times I have heard her talk about that one, and I can relate to the part about keeping him home, because sometimes when he had to go out of town for work in the years after we moved to Casper, I simply didn’t feel good until he came home. I don’t mean sad…I mean I felt physically ill until he came home. My sisters and I loved our daddy very much, and we wanted him to be at home. In fact, I still wish he was at home…here on Earth, instead of in Heaven, because I miss him very much. Today would have been my dad’s 93rd birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Dad. We all love and miss you very much, and can’t wait to see you and Mom again.
Since my oldest grandson, Chris Petersen turned eighteen last February 28th, and had to register for the draft, and my grandson, Caalab Royce will be registering in June after he turns eighteen this year on the 25th, I have wondered a little more about the making of a soldier…in any war. Since the draft is something that almost never happens these days, it was not a real priority in my mind, however. Then I started looking at my Aunt Bertha Hallgren’s journal again, because she was such a great writer, and because I haven’t referred to her work in a while. I stumbled across a reference she makes to the experience of a World War I soldier. Since my grandfather, George Byer fought in World War I, that part of her journal made me curious.
The story Aunt Bertha wrote was funny to a large degree, although I doubt that the soldier she wrote abut thought it was funny exactly. I suppose that as a eighteen year old boy, at a time when education was not always the top priority, he did not always understand the new to him words that were being thrown at him, being asked if you were an alien, might make you wonder if they were asking if you were sick right now, but the humor was somehow lost on the officer who was asking the questions. And when he asks you your name, and he has known you all your life, because he’s your milkman, it might be hard not to say, “You know my name.” Nevertheless, you must quickly learn that knowing you in life and knowing you in the military are obviously two very different things. You had better just answer the question and not act like a smart-aleck.
After getting past the registration area, and getting the feeling that these guys didn’t expect you to make it past the first week in combat, you might start looking for the door, and wondering if there was any way to make them believe you were only seventeen after all. Nevertheless, the line moved forward, and there was no way to get out of it, so you followed along. At some point you were issued a uniform, which the soldier Bertha was talking about described as one of two sizes…too small or too big. He pointed out that the pants were so tight that he didn’t dare sit down, and the shoes were so big that he could “turn around twice, and they didn’t move”. Sadly, I think that is the way it was during World War I. A guy could probably deal with the loose fitting clothes, but those tight ones wouldn’t last long. And to make matters worse for our particular soldier, he passed an officer, who immediately asked him if he had noticed the uniform the officer was wearing. In his typical eighteen year old mouthiness, and his lack of understanding the meaning of the question, our new soldier, asked why the officer was complaining. Hadn’t he seen how ill fitting the soldiers uniform was after all. I seriously doubt if the officer saw the humor in that.
After another mouthy session, the soldier found himself digging a hole…then being told to dig another one to throw the dirt into. I guess you can see where this task was heading. If our soldier didn’t figure out pretty fast that he needed to keep his sarcasm to himself, then it is my guess that he spent a lot of time peeling potatoes, scrubbing floors, and digging holes…when he wasn’t fighting for his life that is. As time went on, I’m sure he figured out that they didn’t care about his opinion, and if he gave it anyway, he was going to wish he hadn’t. While this type of soldier would not really make a great soldier, he would probably have made a funny movie. I’m sure he got over the need to be funny once the bullets started flying too. By the way, I really don’t recommend that any of the soldiers, who might be coming up the ranks, act this way. I think that while sarcasm in school might make you the class clown, and make you popular with your friends, because that’s what kids do, it will not have the same affect on your commanding officer in any way, shape, or form.