OK, maybe I’m not quite done yet.
At just two years of age, I find my martial spirit. Lying on my mother’s sofa, a bottle jammed in my mouth, transfixed by Vic Morrow in the TV show Combat I discover a world of evil Nazis opposed by noble GIs willing to sacrifice all to defeat their nefarious schemes. At times I’m so involved in the jaw clenching heroics on the screen I bite through the bottle’s rubber teat and find myself awash. War is hell, especially for late weaners.
To her credit – and in keeping with the times – my Mother makes no attempt to curb my burgeoning war lust. At three, I become the proud owner of a tripod-mounted heavy machine gun complete with plastic ammo belt and realistic battle sounds. I proceed to spend many a blissful afternoon in the back yard at Zetland hunched determinedly over the sights of my tin and plastic death machine as I mow down oncoming waves of hated Nazis.
On one such afternoon, a horse which lives in the paddock behind our rented house pokes a curious nose over the top of the fence and, immediately deciding I don’t like the look of his long horsey face, I give him a burst between the eyes. He doesn’t seem to mind awfully much. It’s all in good fun but the truth is I’m becoming obsessed with the idea of death and glory.
There’s a photo of me on my fifth birthday. I’m dressed in a way that only a mother can find appropriate, sandals with socks (ouch), shorts pulled up way too high, and a shirt tucked in much too tight. On my head is perched a plastic combat helmet replete with camo netting. There’s a plastic commando knife tucked into my elastic waistband and I’m holding a toy Tommy gun. I look very pleased with myself.
The fact is that war is a constant in my young life. Each night the TV news fills my sponge-like young mind with images from the conflict in Vietnam. Mostly, all that gets shown are scenes of broken toy soldiers being carried out of rice paddies and loaded onto choppers. Occasionally there’s a brief shot of a soldier firing short bursts from his M16 at, as far as I can tell, no discernible target.
I keep wondering, “where are all the Nazis?” This TV war is strangely unsatisfying. There’s none of the glory or heroism that Vic Morrow displays every week in Combat All the soldiers on the news look scared. GIs aren’t meant to look scared, are they?. The good guys are meant to look tough and the bad guys are meant to look mean. Where are the bad guys? The news never seems to show them. They must be really good at hiding.
These questions will continue to perplex me for many years. Eventually, I will discover the awful truth, Vic Morrow is just an actor and Combat isn’t real. I will simultaneously become aware that WWII is long over, there are no more Indian fights in the Wild West, and England has not a single Knight in shining armour left to win fair lady’s hand. This unwanted knowledge will come to leave a bitter taste of betrayal in my mouth.