The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.
Of all the American wars of the past century, World War II is perhaps the most glamorized. Tom Brokaw desribed the heroism of our troops in his famous book The Greatest Generation. But war is never glamorous, and any discussion of it must be tempered with the very real trauma it inflicts on those who fought. Archer W. Kammerer Jr, of Fullerton, fought in WWII. He was in the infantry in Germany mostly. His father, Archer W. Kammerer Sr, a Republican business man, describes his son after the war:
“The first night he came home I guess we sat up until about three or four o’clock in the morning asking him questions and talking to him, but after that he didn’t say anything and never has. He used to wake up at night, occasionally, and was pretty excited. He was fighting before you could snap him out of it. He got married, that’s his picture up there, and shortly after he got married he came pretty close to beating his wife up because he had another one of these dreams. He’s all right now.”
I have a cousin who fought in the first Gulf War. Before going to war, he was a model student, with a bright future ahead of him. When he returned, he was addicted to drugs, and has struggled with addiction ever since. He is not a “bad guy.” I believe he used drugs to self-medicate the very real trauma he experienced.
War is never glamorous. It makes me really mad when I see recruitment ads for the military on television and before movies, depicting war as this great adventure. I would rather they show videos of soldiers talking about their real experiences, and how it affected them. Once, when I was having a drink at The Continental Room, I met this guy who was about to be deployed to Afghanistan for his second tour of duty. He was terrified. He said that he joined the army to clean up his life, but that what he experienced had messed him up more. He said, "Joining the army was the worst decision I ever made."