During World War II, my Dad spent time in Guam, New Guinea, the Philippines, and a pretty little Philippine singer who sang at a nearby bar. How nearby? Who knows? When you're young and feeling frisky, no distance seems that far.
Years later, my Dad still had a photograph of her, and, sometime after my parent's 50th wedding anniversary, my Mom tore it up and threw it away. Why it took her so long to get jealous, only she knows. My dad got pretty angry, though.
"Why'd you throw away her picture?" my Dad demanded to know.
"Why were you keeping her picture?" my Mom demanded to know.
Since neither had a good enough reason for doing what they did, the argument kind of fizzled out. My Dad went into the den and sat down in his favorite chair, probably remembering back to a time when he was young and strong and the secret behind a young singer's smile, and my Mom went into the kitchen to begin making dinner, satisfied that she had made her point.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, my Dad knew he was going to be drafted, so he went to the Army recruiter and enlisted. Why did he volunteer, instead of waiting to be drafted? Because nobody ever told my Dad what to do. Nobody! Not even the United States of America.
At the time he joined the Army it was still segregated. My Dad, being Hispanic, should have ended up in one of the Hispanic platoons, but, with the last name of Duchene, the military paper-pusher who had nothing but a last name to make his decision by assigned him to an all-white barrack, sight unseen.
My Dad was constantly complimented on his nice tan.
"Tan?" my Dad would say. "What tan? This is my natural color."
I think it was my Dad's natural tall, dark, and handsomeness that gave him an edge over his fellow soldiers when it came to wooing the fairer sex. His buddies were one of two colors: pale and sunburned. So, to the women, my Dad probably looked like Dean Martin standing next to a platoon full of Jerry Lewis's.
When he first entered the Army, my Dad mainly spoke Spanish. Not because he preferred to or out of some sort of cultural pride, but simply because in the neighborhood he grew up in everybody there mainly spoke Spanish. If you tried to speak English, that would usually lead to your having to defend yourself in a fight, because someone might think you were acting a bit too uppity for your own good or maybe that you were giving them the high hat. However, once in the Army-and in an all-white platoon-he had no choice but to pick up English, and to pick it up quickly, which is what he did.
He was somewhat out of his element, but he got along with everyone. Quite a difference from just a few months before, when he'd punch out anybody who had the momentary lack of judgement to smile at the girl he was with. In the Army, there was nothing like the knowledge that somewhere in your future there were men with guns waiting to kill you to make you get along with the men you're with.
After Boot Camp, and, again, because of his last name, he was chosen to be a Medic. That was both a blessing, and a curse. It was a blessing, because as a Medic you were naturally treated better by your fellow soldiers. As the person who might have to one day save your life, you didn't want to get on their bad side. It was a curse, because, on the battlefield, it put a big target on your back, or, rather, on your arm in the form of a white band with a red cross on it. Enemy soldiers were trained to first kill either the officers or the Medics. Preferrably the officers, my Dad hoped.
Dad went into training, again with an all-white group, and succeeded in the classroom and on the field. He told me about how, during his training, the instructor would shoot a dog or a pig, and it was up to the students to apply first aid and take care of the wound. Those were different times. If you did that kind of thing today, PETA would force the U.S. government to release all the Al-Quida terrorists from Guantanamo Bay, and replace them with the servicemen training to save American lives. The guy who shot the animal would get off, because the guys at the top always do.
The future Medics would treat the wounded animal like it was a human, and they would do whatever was necessary to save it's life. After they saved its life, they would kill it. Sometimes to put it out of its misery, or sometimes so it could make it to the kitchen in time to be dinner.
After Dad completed training he was sent to Hawaii, where he had a great time. Beautiful weather, beautiful beaches, beautiful women... Dad thought to himself that the Army wasn't so bad, what was everybody complaining about? He might even make a career out of it. War is Hell? What idiot thought that up? And then he got his orders...
...he would soon be leaving for the Philippines.