We earn our war games stripes

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By W.B. Evans

The last few days have been miserably hot. It kind of reminds me of when the U.S. Army came to town for a round of war games.

America was getting a bit antsy with all the saber-rattling going on in Europe.

Given the situation, somebody up and decided to call out our soldiers in the middle of a really hot summer for military maneuvers.

You know, it takes two sides to argue, fight or have a war, even if it’s just playin’ war.

Because of Gen. Sherman, the terms “Yankees” and “Rebels” just didn’t seem go over very favorably in this neck of the woods. After all, they were trying to unify us, not tear us apart.

Once they picked sides, they just called them the Red Army and the Blue Army. 

On one of those hot summer days about like this past Wednesday, the light bulb above my head went off. 

I came up with a scheme to profit from the troop influx. 

I hauled out an old beat-up table from the plunder house and set me up a real fine lemonade stand in the front yard. The going rate was one brownie per glass. While it wasn’t much of a profit, I figured a little money was better than none.   

Business was a little slow until one of those little bitty Army Jeeps loaded down with GIs pulled up. 

In not time at all, my lemonade jug was bone dry; those soldiers polished off all the contents. 

“Son, it ain’t bad, but you a need bit more sugar,” one of the Army men said. “If you’re still in business when we come back through, I’ll bring you a bag.”

Well sir, sure enough, he was good to his word. 

Later that afternoon, I found a sack of sugar on my table.

For the next several days, long lines of big Army trucks were traveling down Chesterfield Avenue and some of them stopped by. 

Somebody said soldiers were sleeping under the trees or anywhere there might be a breeze stirring.

Why, some of them, red and blue alike, even parked in front of our house. 

Now, it didn’t take us boys very long to fall right into the middle of ’em.

Our eyes were looking over everything and we wore ’em down with our constant questions.  

Our soldiers –  or at least the ones playing war in Lancaster – had wooden rifles, which didn’t past muster among us.

How in the blue blazes could they have a war with wooden guns? But somehow, they did. I wondered if they yelled “Bang” when they shot somebody on the opposing force.

Well, after a day or so, the soldiers left, making Chesterfield Avenue unbearably hot and unbearably boring. It was really too hot to do anything. 

Things changed one day when we heard the roar of heavy equipment in the distance and getting closer.

Bless Pete, honest-to-goodness, real Army tanks were roaring down the street.

And like a pack of barking dogs chasing a rabbit, we ran after them down to Market Street where they turned south down Market Street and parked at the railroad sidings to set up housekeeping. 

Somehow, we convinced them to let us climb on and in one of those tanks for a closer look. Boy, it was cramped and hot as the dickens. 

Now I knew how a stewing chicken felt on the kitchen stove. I made up my mind right them and there the tank life was not for me. 

We listened carefully as our new friends started talking about the Red Army.

Seems a battle was brewing with them, but we kept it to ourselves. After all, loose lips sink ships. 

Now that we were privy to inside information, that made us collaborators, like some of those folks in Europe. 

We were friendly to both armies as they passed through, but didn’t share secrets with the other side. 

That earned us high marks from some of the soldiers, who rewarded us with unit badges or an occasional sergeant’s stripe. Talk about a prize – red or blue didn’t matter.

The opposing armies invaded the countryside, too. Daddy said a group of ’em were borrowing the barn loft at our Bell Town farm as a signal headquarters to kept track of things going on down at the Catawba River bridge.

As conditions in Europe worsened and Pearl Harbor was attacked, the soldiers on maneuvers came to a close. They traded their wooden rifles for real ones and boarded troop ships. Some of them would never see home again.

There were still pockets of them scattered here and there, ’cause they came into town on the weekends.

The local churches opened canteens for them, stocked with snacks and games. Mostly, it gave them a place to relax and write letters back home.

But Lancaster hospitality didn’t end in a church basement. Folks even welcomed them into their homes for a rest between clean white sheets and home-cooked meals.

I never forgot that and remembered it years later.

As a member of the Air Force, I was among the first group of men returning home by troop ship into the port of Seattle upon the signing of the armistice in Korea.

We were welcomed there by demonstrators who spat at us. 

It was a blessing to land at Charlotte’s Douglas Airport, where the sight of a uniform was still respected. The bigger blessing was having my wife and Mama there to welcome me home. 

You know, at the time, I never realized that those young men playin’ war on those hot summer days were “America’s Greatest Generation” and now they are disappearing from the scene. They are missed. 

I can’t help but wonder if one of them recalls placing a sack of sugar on a youngster’s Chesterfield Avenue lemonade stand on a really hot day so long ago.