Friday, January 7, 2011

Souveniers

My writing friend Sarah had a piece from her own website republished by the editor of the Camroc Press Review.

Sarah writes on an uncle killed during the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, and of his dog tags only lately being returned by the government.

My mother asked me what I thought she should do with the dog tags. I told her I didn’t know. But what I thought was, I want to hold them for a moment’s reflection and then fling them onto the field where he died. 

That is where they belong.
I don't have my father's dog tags, although I think I have seen them somewhere in the memorabilia we have in boxes around the house. He survived the war.

But I have been giving away some of the things I have discovered. I gave my nephew a Japanese officer's sword Dad brought back. I also seem to remember him bringing back a Japanese infantry rifle, but I think it is long gone. Over Christmas, I gave my nephew my father's military-issue watch. It was an Elgin, with a canvas strap band.

"That's probably radium," he said when I handed it to him, describing the chipped surfaces on the hands and numerals. I imagine it is, given that no one paid much attention to minimal radiation emissions sixty years ago.

I gave my niece the minor equivalent of the officer's sword. It was a little knife, supposedly to be worn around the neck on a string. It looked like nothing so much as a minuscule version of a Samuri sword. The sheath and the handle were both some sort of hard wood, and the knife could be honed to an incredibly sharp, near razor-like edge.

I often thought about that sword and the knife. My father said he took the knife from a prisoner during the surrender of Japanese troops occupying Korea. That was after the bombs were dropped, and the Japanese held sway on the peninsula until American forces arrived. There would be no way to find that soldier. But the sword supposedly came from the Japanese officer acting as police chief in Seoul then, someone a person with research skills should be able to find. No doubt he would be dead now.

The sword wasn't jeweled or intriguingly decorated. It was simply a sword in the Samuri manner, a long arcing blade with the scabbard and the handle wrapped in wide bands of plum-maroon colored fabric, silk I suppose. It was -- is -- worth nothing but a handful of memories.

I don't know what my nephew, born in the mid-1980s, will do with it, or what my niece will do with the little knife. I suppose it is not my worry. Somehow, that thought allows me a shiver of comprehension of what might have gone through my friend's mind when she thought about flinging the dog tags back into the bloody ground of the Bulge.


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