National Geographic : 1946 Jan
This Is My Own How the United States Seems to a Citizen Soldier Back from Three Years Overseas BY FREDERICK G. VOSBURGH * SLANTING rays of the setting sun were canceling out the eleventh day of the voyage from Britain when at last the crowded Liberty ship came within sight of the land. All night the transport lay offshore while the lights of that magic coast winked at us like tantalizing sirens. "Can't land tonight. Too late. You'll dock first thing in the morning," was the word. "Oh, well," shrugged one of us. "What's one more night when you've been away for years?" On the sleeve of the philosophical one gleamed the gold of six "Hershey bars." f Others found their eyes automatically meas uring the distance ashore, wondering whether they could swim it, and considering the chances, if any, of evading the long arm labeled "MP." After balancing home against guardhouse, all 738 of the returning soldiers eventually gave it up and tried to sleep. Drugstores and Phone Booths But in the dreams of one, at least, those mocking lights danced up and down. Street lights meant towns, and towns meant drug stores. In every drugstore was a phone booth; and from each booth a wire stretched straight to the most wonderful place on earth. Over it would come a voice unheard since that last gallant godspeed in dark, dismal 1942. The long night passed, as all nights must, and they went ashore in the morning sun. The heavy bags they bore were light, and their feet felt light in their heavy shoes, for the ground they trod was home. With jokes and cracks they tried to hide the way they felt inside. "Easiest landing we've made since Nor mandy," grinned one. "The natives seem friendly," said another, casting sheep's eyes at a smiling, buxom, sweatered miss doing man's work on the docks. "Ah, the land of milk and honeys," cracked a third as Red Cross girls went down the line with doughnuts and, incredible sight, pint bottles of delectable ice-cold milk. "Real drinkin' milk," sighed a lad from the South in the respectful tone he usually reserved for the expression "good drinkin' licker." The cold milk seemed especially good, for the men in the warm woolen uniforms of the European Theater of Operations found the air of their homeland oppressively hot. Boston, where they landed, is more than 600 miles farther south than Cardiff, Wales, from which they had sailed, and the air lacked the balmy, oceanic quality, the dampness and the rawness of the island Kingdom they had left. They sweated in their ribbon-bright olive drab as they boarded the waiting train that would take them away from the dock. Many of the men had long been suffering from the affliction known as being "ETO happy"-a chronic homesickness analogous to the mental state of the boxer who has fought so long and taken such punishment that his mind is cauliflowered like his ears; "punch drunk" or "slug-nutty," he stumbles when he walks and may do such incongruous things as cutting out paper dolls. For the ETO-happy there is a sure cure, and the name of it is "home." Already it was taking effect, like the miracle-working sulfa drugs. Men who had been moody, even sullen, brightened like the rising sun of the morning. To eyes conditioned for years to the shorter distances and smaller dimensions of many appurtenances of life in Europe, the lavish scale of America made this country seem mightily magnified. Freight Cars vs. "Goods Wagons" Freight cars in the railroad yards seemed vast in proportion to the little "goods wagons" of Britain and the "40 and 8" cars of France. Automobiles were standard size, with hardly a midget among them. The soldiers marveled at their size and number-shining, streamlined cars thronging the busy streets or arrayed in resplendent rows in factory parking lots. In wartime England the workers came and went by bicycle, and you could fly over the island every day for years without finding such arrays of parked automobiles as greeted the men fresh off the boat. Prewar cars, yes, but they did not look it. Here a workman came to * Lieutenant Colonel Vosburgh, a member of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE editorial staff, served for three years in England, France, Luxembourg, and Germany as an intelligence officer with the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces. t Soldier slang for overseas stripes, each denoting six months' service abroad; derived from Maj. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, who, as Director of the Selective Service System, launched millions of military careers.