A CIVILIAN IN UNIFORM By Jean Kohn (continued)
Chapter Seven - The War is Over
We went back to Kunming, met all the boys again,
told some "tall" stories about our expedition into Indochina.
Then within a relatively short time we received our orders to go back
home. There was no censorship anymore. We could write whatever we wanted.
My father was a little bit unhappy at Colonel Cox (he had been promoted
from Major by then) who had sent a form letter in July telling him I
was away somewhere (Ningming) and that I could not write home. Poor
father who thought the Colonel was supposed to keep parents up to date
on where their "children" were, as if he had nothing else
By the end of September 1945 we were back on the boat from Karachi. The return trip was exactly the same I had taken in May but "backward." Over the Hump, to Calcutta, Dehli, Karachi and to the U.S. on a Coast Guard boat first on the Red Sea, then through the Suez Canal. In Calcutta we stayed in a camp filled with army tents. It was monsoon season. One evening some fellows asked me to come along to the movies. I told them I was not interested. Would it rain? I told them: no, since my thigh was not hurting; When the weather was humid my recent grenade shrapnel wound would hurt a little. That evening I did not feel anything. So they all went happily to the movies. Then the monsoon rain started to pour. They came back drenched. They almost lynched me.
A friend of mine wanted me to meet a judge whom he had known through his family back home. I went along to be introduced to Judge Cohen. To my surprise, the gentleman looked like any other Indian, dark skin, dressed in a typical white robe. With a name like his I thought he would be of European stock. Yet he was a Jewish Indian. He lived in a large house. He received us in a princely fashion with a good lunch served by servants going bare feet silently behind us. Somebody said, he is Jewish, but he does not look like one!!!
About that return trip one of many fond remembrances still lingers in my mind: on the boat there was a room with classical music. The U.S. Coast Guard does things well. There were quite a few of us who like "good" music. They were playing among other things the Symphony for the New World by Dvorak. To me this was a symbol, going back to the New World, America. I was so happy. The ship was riding in the Red Sea before reaching the Suez Canal. The weather was particularly hot. We could see the flash of the hot sun on the sea through the open porthole.
After Suez we sailed in the Mediterranean—a relatively quiet sea. But when we entered the Atlantic we all became seasick again. This ship was certainly not a Blue Ribbon fast Europe to New York luxury liner like the Queen Elizabeth but we did reach destination in a short time. The ship lights were on at night. We were not afraid of enemy submarines anymore. This felt so good to feel we were at peace.
In Washington, at our Congressional Country Club camp I was decorated by General Donovan, along with another fellow from the OGs called Conlon. General Donovan was very friendly and kind during the ceremony. He was old already. After pinning the medals on our chests, both standing at attention ofcourse, he made a short speech off the cuff. Then he asked what we were going to do from then on, going back to school maybe? He sounded like a grandfather. He could have been my grandfather considering the age gap.
We were taken to Fort Meade for discharge. There for about half an hour a sergeant tried to sell us the idea to join the reserve. He was booed. The poor man did not have a chance to have volunteers to join the reserve. It turned out to be a good thing we did not join since the Korean War, five years later, enrolled all the reservists.
I immediately went home. That was on November 4th 1945. My last picture in uniform was taken that day. Unfortunately my mother was in France trying to salvage our business. I was alone with my younger brother and my father.
My father said :
"OK, take your uniform off, the War is over you know."
That didn't take long.
Then he added :
"You had a good time for two years and seven months, didn't you???"
"What do you mean I had a good time?"
"Yes, sure, you went around the World at
Uncle Sam's expense. If I had been a rich man, I would have paid for
you to see the world. You did that with the American army.
"Yes, why not? I was scared sometimes, but effectively looking back this was a good experience."
Then the blow came:
"Go back to school."
He did not give me a chance to relax just a wee bit.
I called the Registrar of the College to see if I could go back. He told me to come right away. I immediately packed my bags and went, the same Forestry College in Syracuse NY I had left two and half years before. It had been a very good thing for me to have started college in 1943 as a freshman. I was already registered as a student. I had left, when I was drafted in the middle of the first freshman semester. I was coming back in the middle of the semester at about the same school "time." There is a little story I tell about the freshman English course given by a professor, whose name I still remember: Mr. Waite. Freshman "foresters" take courses in English, maths, and chemistry "across campus" at Syracuse University since State College only gives courses related to wood. I sat in the same English class. I was listening to the same man with the same course I had attended in 1943. I shook my head, closed my eyes and thought for a while:
"What happened ? Was there a two years and seven months lull in my life. Did I go somewhere on another planet? Because there in front of me are the same man, the same course, the same books."
I graduated in 1948. All ex-servicemen were studying under the GI Bill of Rights, the best law passed by Congress to subsidize schooling for all those who served during the War.
After graduation, other priorities took over—I married, I worked. War seemed far away.
I joined the Veterans of Foreign War for a month or two while I was still in Syracuse. I then let it go. I never liked these "old boys" get together. I never drank. This might explain that.
To end this story here are some thoughts :
German and Japanese soldiers were very bad.
I still have a lot of resentment against what the Japanese did in Indochina on that infamous night of March 8th to 9th 1945. We read more details on the slaughter that followed. To this day I still think the way they acted was just awful. They could have taken over the country easily without cutting heads or stabbing people with bayonets.
The Germans were just as brutal and maybe worse.
What about throwing two atomic bombs? This might not have been the best thing either.
Who will judge ?
Time will tell. We shall be gone from this earth a long time thence.