War Stories

by Damon L. Fordham

While settling in at the Potts home one day after school, Lucas went straight to the table and pulled out his books and his note pad. Meanwhile, Mr. Ernest Potts put down his newspaper and noticed all this from his favorite chair.

"About to do some homework, Luke?" asked the old man.

"Yes, sir, " replied the boy, " But before he could explain the subject, the doorbell rang to which Mrs. Potts answered. Upon doing so, she was pleased to see her daughter, Mrs. Lillian Potts Matthewson with a package.

After the mother and daughter embraced, the old man entered the living room and said, "How’s my cute little self doing these days?" as he hugged Lillian.

The forty-some year old woman smiled, "Still cute but not so little, Dad." She chuckled while looking at his belly and noted, "Looks like mama is feeding you well these days."

Lucas looked at all of this with mixed emotions. On one hand, he admired the closeness of the Potts family. On the other hand, witnessing this scene made him long for his own deceased father.

"Anyway," Lillian continued, "Roscoe and I are going to celebrate our fifteenth anniversary next week and I need your help with this dress pattern." Mrs. Potts agreed and the two women exited to the den.

After this, Mr. Potts turned his attention back to Lucas. "So what did you say your homework was about?"

Lucas answered, "The Second World War."

The old man looked with a stern expression. "Get your pen and paper ready. I’ll tell you all about it. Here’s what happened."

Luke smiled, as he knew another good story was about to commence.

"You see, " began the old man, "at the time the war started, I was a young fellow at the Colored Normal Industrial Agricultural and Mechanical College of South Carolina up in Orangeburg, South Carolina."

"The WHAT?" asked Luke.

"South Carolina State College for short. But in those days, it had that long name because back then, they taught Black kids how to teach, build things, and grow crops. That’s where I learned to fix so many things. So anyway, my Daddy drowned in a fishing accident a few years before that, so I had to work my way through school as a waiter in the school’s dining hall."

Luke thought about this for a moment. He had no idea that Mr. Potts had also lost his father at a young age.

The old man continued. "That was a pretty good job. The name of the dining hall was this, and the fellows had a little song they used to sing about it that went like this (Mr. Potts then sang in the style of a barbershop quartet).

Floyd Hall boys are we

We’re just as happy as we can be

Oh, those biscuits in that oven

How I wish I had some of them

Floyd Hall boys are we

Lucas laughed at this and Mr. Potts decided to speed up the tempo of the song and clap his hands in time while Luke danced to his beat.

Floyd Hall boys are we

We’re just as happy as we can be

Oh, those biscuits in that oven

How I wish I had some of them

Floyd Hall boys are we

Mr. Potts spirits were filled with the pleasant memories of bygone days and soon, he began to join Lucas in this little dance. However, he soon turned around to see his wife and daughter standing in the door of the den with knowing smiles and their arms folded at the old man and Lucas.

The smile immediately dropped from the face of the elderly gentleman. "Ain’t you gals got something else to do?"

"We do." replied Mrs. Potts.

"But this is more fun." explained Lillian.

The old man huffed and puffed for a moment and turned back to Lucas to continue the tale.

"Anyway, not too long before I was supposed to graduate, I got my letter form President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself. He told me "greetings." Back then, that was their way of telling you that you were on your way to war. After I served my basic training, they sent me down to one of them forts in Georgia. Of course back then, you had separate regiments of White and Colored troops, just like with everything else. So we went into this mess hall, which is what they call a cafeteria in the army, and the White cook wouldn’t serve us. So our major tells the cook, "HEY- You serve the Colored troops just like you serve the White ones."

"The fellow said, ‘Oh, all right. I’ll serve them.’ And we got some scrambled eggs. But don’t you know that when we started eating them eggs, we all looked at each other and noted, ‘You know. These are the CRUNCHIEST eggs I ever ate.’ Turns out that the son-of-a-gun cooked the shells in with the eggs!"

"So the major ran up to the cook and said, ‘I told you to serve these men!" That dirty cook had a little grin on his face and told the major, ‘Yes, sir, but you didn’t say how!’"

"Excuse me, Mr. Potts," interrupted Lucas, "but how come the White people treated y’all so mean in those days?"

The old man was stunned into silence for a moment, as were his wife and daughter who were still standing nearby. Fortunately, Mr. Potts quickly regained his composure and managed to continue.

"You see, a long time ago our great-great grandparents were brought here in slavery as you might already know. But before that, the people who were running things in the country had the poor Whites as slaves. That didn’t work because all the poor Whites had to do was run to where there were more White folks and they’d be free. Then at one time the Indians was slaves, but all they had to do was run to where they were other Indians and they’d be free. But since the Black folks were from Africa and didn’t know the land that well, then it was easier to use Blacks, that is until we got to know the land well enough to run away ourselves."

"But the folks who were running things also knew that if the Indians, poor Whites, and Black folks ever got together, they wouldn’t run things anymore. So they brainwashed these groups into hating each other so that they would keep looking at each other instead of the folks at the top who were cheating ALL of them at the same time! If you don’t understand all of that now, one day you will."

The old man continued, "But before we get too deep into that Lucas, there’s something I want to make sure you understand now. Let me ask you something, are all Black people that you know good and smart?"

"No, sir." replied the boy.

"Then are all Black folks evil and ignorant?" continued Mr. Potts.

"No." said Lucas.

"So by that same token, are all the White folks you know at school ignorant and evil?"

"No, sir." answered Lucas, "Mrs. Sanders was real nice to me in first grade. She always used to give me books and have me perform in plays."

"Very good. Now are all White people good and smart?"

"No." repeated the boy.

"Good answers, Luke." responded Mr. Potts. "Always remember that no matter what some folks tell you, good and evil don’t come in colors."

Lillian and Mrs. Potts looked at Ernest with pride for giving this answer to Lucas’ question.

"Now back to the war. After that, they shipped us out to some place up in Iowa. We were stationed near this small town and one night, we were allowed to go off the base. So there we were out with our uniforms in the middle of nowhere where they probably never saw nothing Black but shoe polish. So we saw this guy sweeping in front of his store and decided to go there to get something to eat. A little skinny old fellow with big, thick glasses. Wouldn’t you know that when he saw us coming, he got so scared that he dropped his, ran in the store, and locked it tight!" The old man laughed along with Lucas.

"But Mr. Potts, if people treated y’all so bad, why did you fight for them?"

The old man paused again. "Because we felt that if we proved ourselves as good soldiers, things would be better for people like you and my daughter in the future."

This answer satisfied Lucas while Mr. Potts resumed the narrative.

"So from there we were shipped out to Siapan, off the coast of Japan, to fight the Japanese. Boy, them Japanese weren’t playing when it comes to war! They used to do this thing called the water torture. That was where they’d tie you to the ground and slowly drop drops of water on your head. I don’t know why, but after a few hours of that, it’d drive you crazy and make you feel like they were dropping hammers on your head."

Mr. Potts paused for a minute. "Say boy, I thought you were supposed to be writing all this down."

Luke quickly broke out of his trance. "Oh, yes, sir." he said while grabbing his pencil and paper.

The old man resumed the tale. "But you know, one thing the Japanese troops wouldn’t do to us. You see, some of the Japanese soldiers out there in the South Pacific would actually eat the White soldiers when they killed them. But they wouldn’t do that to us. See, the Japanese, like a lot of people in those days, were also brainwashed into believing that we weren’t as good as the Whites. So that was one time I could truly say, ‘Thank God for prejudice!"

The whole household rocked with laughter at this one.

"But something happened there really messed up my future. I was taking my last exams for college by mail since they pulled me out to fight. I had all my papers ready to go back to America to finish my college degree. But the Japanese invaded out post and those papers were burned." The old man paused and sighed. "So I never got my dream of finishing college to come true. But remember this- you take a duck, throw it out in the water, and it does one of two things- sink or swim! That’s how you gotta look at life, only the strong survive and you can’t be too sad about what happened way back when. You got to keep on until you die."

"Oh yeah, back to the war. So after that raid, everybody in my platoon got a little shook up. Everybody was a little crazy. One night I wanted to ask my sergeant something

and for no reason, he looked up and threw a knife at me. Good thing I knew how to duck his aim! I tell you, I wondered how I was going to get out of that place alive! But a few months later, I was playing a game of tennis on a makeshift court that we made, and they told s that the war was over and we’d be shipping out soon! I tell you, I got down on my knees and said, ‘I know I’m going to heaven because I just came back from hell! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!’ So as soon as my ship came back into the port over in Charleston, I took the loop bus back over here and my family was so glad to see me and I was glad to see them."

The old man smiled at this memory. "Yeah, I got a job at the shipyard after that and married that lovely lady over there and had that cute little lady next to her a year later." His wife and daughter beamed at this statement and were nearly in tears. Mr. Potts stopped this story and asked Lucas, "Well, think that’ll make a good paper about World War Two?"

The boy was at a loss for words, and then said, "That’s story was real deep."

Mr. Potts replied, "Thanks, but there’s one thing I want you to add in that paper that I want you to learn more than anything else from what I just told you. When I got back form that mess in Saipan and came here and got married, I was a truly happy man because I saw how bad life can really be sometimes. It takes things like that for you to appreciate it when times are good. To sum it all up Luke, never forget that you can’t be happy if you’ve never been sad."

War Stories by Damon L. Fordham

© Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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