Friday, October 17, 2014

chatting the fireside; one man's spirit

{book title:  Charlie Wilson's War

subtitle:  "The Extraordinary Story Of How The Wildest Man In Congress and A Rogue CIA Agent Changed The History Of Our Times"

written by George Crile

published, Grove Press, New York, 2003}

-------------------- [excerpt] --------------------- ...The painting over his bed, his one steady nightly companion, was like a talisman to him.  The painting -- a lone pilot in the cockpit of a Spitfire, patrolling the night skies of London -- had hung over his boyhood bed in tiny Trinity, Texas, at a time when the Nazis were sweeping across Europe.

Night after night, on the second floor of the white frame house, in the corner room...Charlie would sit staring out the window, ever vigilant, searching the sky for signs of Japanese bombers and fighter planes, whose characteristics were burned upon the memory of this seven-year-old defender of Trinity. 

"They aren't coming, Charlie," his kindly uncle Jack would assure him.  "But if they do, you'll be the first to see them."

There was nothing distant or unfamiliar about World War II for the citizens of this timber town along the railroad tracks in deep East Texas.  Every night, not just Charlie and his family but everyone in Trinity gathered around their radios to find out how the war was going, knowing that everything rested on the outcome. 

When the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Charlie Wilson, age eight, sat in the living room of the white frame house across from the Methodist church and listened to Franklin Roosevelt describe the "day of infamy." 

The young boy with the huge imagination had already become obsessed with the war and with the magical voices coming out of the RCA radio:  Roosevelt with his fireside chats, Murrow

from London under the Blitz, and particularly Winston Churchill.   It was a voice from far away, heard on a radio in a tiny town in the back of beyond. 

But those ringing, defiant words of Churchill,

mocking Hitler

and infusing a nation with the will to fight on,

no matter what the cost, never to be conquered, would leave Wilson forever struck by the power of one man's spirit to change history. ...

Every soldier from Trinity had his picture in the window of the local drugstore.  There were eighty or ninety of them, and whenever one would return, wounded or discharged, Charlie would sit at his feet at the soda fountain and listen to his stories.

Often he even saw the true face of the enemy close up.  The War Department maintained a huge prisoner of war camp just seven miles from Trinity at a railroad depot called Riverside.  Trains would unload German prisoners, who would then march three miles to the POW camp. 

As Wilson remembers, "It was a great treat in 1943 when the town doctor drove me to Riverside to watch the men of the Afrika Korps being unloaded -- these were Rommel's troops. 

Those sons of bitches were goose-stepping off of the train with great pride and arrogance in the very uniforms in which they were captured."

...Wilson's father had one fixed ambition for his son:  to attend the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.  He insisted it would be a ticket to success.

...Wilson and his fellow midshipmen in the starting class of two thousand were warned that less than half of them would graduate; and over the years, it was always touch-and-go whether Charlie would make the cut. 

He was a classic military screwup, constantly reprimanded for talking in formation, not having his shoes shined, leaving his light on after curfew.  But somehow he made it through, in 1956 graduating eighth from the bottom of his class and with the distinction of having more demerits than any other graduate in anyone's memory. --------------------- [end excerpt]


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