I was never the type to keep odds and ends. I had no box of ticket stubs or polaroids, I had no stacks of old love letters. As I moved, to and from places, in and out of relationships, I left most of these things behind. My memory was good enough (and mean enough ) to handle the details.

But recently, as I look back over the seasons, I am starting to regret the little pieces of my life that I have discarded. I can see them: the program from a long forgotten football game, menus from long shuttered restaurants, the stack of photos from a cross country trip. In my mind's eye they are jumbled into a shoebox and stuffed into a closet. But they are gone, as surely gone as those days, those afternoons and the laughter that I smiled at when I opened the box and emptied the contents out on the floor. It was all there, now it's all in my head. Grayer and less clear everyday.

My typed words are my scrapbook now. This will be where I place my version of those memories, faded now as any old photo, smudged and curled on the edges. It's not what happened, really. It's only my version of what happened and how it felt. That is what stays with me, what stays with all of us.


for h.g.
The Scrapbook in MacOS is a sort of extended Clipboard. Like the Clipboard, it can store objects of any sort that can be cut and pasted -- be they text, styled text, sound, graphics, 3DMF objects, and so forth. Unlike the Clipboard, it can store any number of such objects, but these objects must be manually added to it by pasting or dragging -- there is no keyboard shortcut to do so.

Since System 7.5, the Scrapbook has largely been supplanted by the use of clipping files.

I was 18 years old in 1942, chomping at the bit to do my part, practically camped out at the door of the local draft board the morning I enlisted, and itching to stick a rifle in Hitler's rear. I'd been wanting to enlist for months, but ma asked me to wait until I was 18 -- "you're too young for this yet" she'd said. But Uncle Sam needed everybody's help, and I knew it was my time to go.

Once inside the draft office, they sat me down at a desk and asked me to fill out a card with some personal information, gave me a physical, and asked me some more questions.

"Bad leg? Broke it five years ago? Liked high school? Good at math, huh? Good eyes?"

I got worried when they asked about the leg. Sure, I have a little limp, but it doesn't bother me. I can run with the other guys -- how'd I make it on the school baseball team otherwise? They can't keep me out because of that, can they? Damn it, I should have lied!

"Oh we've got work for men like you. Know anything about trigonometry?"


I got sent to the Army base at Fort Dix, went through basic training just like every other soldier, and learned to handle a gun. But then they put me in these classes. Trigonometry. Artillery. Ship identification. Ship identification? Isn't this the Army? Six weeks of that and I was on a troop transport to Delaware. The Army had a new artillery base at the mouth of the Delaware River, to protect the Philadelphia Navy Yard from the Nazis, and that was gonna be my new home for the duration.

What rotten luck! Friends of mine were sailing around the world, shooting Nazis and Japs during the day and hula dancing with naked Polynesian girls at night, and here I was headed for Delaware. Still, they told us it was important work, and I guess it was. The Resor and the Jacob Jones were sunk just a few months before I went to the draft office -- it was all over the newspapers. Our job would be to stop the bastards that did it from doing it again. But still, it wasn't nearly as exciting to be going to Delaware as, say, Algeria or Hawaii. I kinda felt left out of the war.


I started dozing on the truck once we were south of Wilmington, and barely woke up until we got to this tiny town called Lewes. Delaware wasn't anything but corn fields and chicken farms mostly, so I didn't miss much. The Army Air Corps had an airfield at Dover, but I didn't see anything other than a fence, a guard station, and an empty hangar.

And then Lewes -- it barely rated a dot on a map! A few streets with small houses, a small dockyard, and more cornfields! The only thing there that stood out was this funny looking building, like a church or a weird house or something. "Zwaanendael" it was called. Zwaanendael -- sounded like the Nazis had already landed, but I found out it was Dutch, not German. The Dutch landed here in the 1600's and built a town called Zwaanendael that got overrun by Indians within a year. The place was built to look like a Dutch town hall to commemorate the colony just a few years ago. It didn't seem worth commemorating if they all died, though.

The truck kept going, over a bridge, down a long road past fields that changed from corn to sea grass. We pulled up to the gate, and the MP checked our ID's. Me and the other guys mustered in front of our new barracks, where the base commander was waiting. There was a cool breeze coming from the east, off the ocean. I could smell the salt in the air, and the diesel from the trucks rumbling past. I thought this wasn't so bad.

"Gentlemen, welcome to Fort Miles and the 261st Coastal Artillery."


The next several months were busy, like basic training, but more intense. Watch duty every day, and lots of drills -- scramble to the fire control towers, find the target buoy riding on the four foot seas, triangulate with the other towers, order the direction and elevation of the 16-inch guns, wait for our CO to check our range finding to see if we'd score a hit or not. Once in a while, they'd let us blow the crap out of the targets just to remind us what the guns could do. One time, they gave us an old wooden rowboat they'd towed out into the bay and left adrift. There wasn't much left after the first shot, but we put half a dozen shells into the water anyway.

It was fun, but we'd rather be shooting at Nazis.

When we weren't training or on duty (which was most of the time), we usually spent our time on the beach, or down in Rehoboth. The local girls liked us, but the older folks always looked at us funny, probably thinking "what are you doing here? The war's over there, isn't it?"

I thought that a lot, too.


It was July of '44. We'd already gotten a foothold in France, and we were on the way to liberating Paris. We were kicking Tojo's ass all the way back to the emperor's backyard, too.

I say we meaning the Allies. I was polishing my boots, getting a suntan, and blowing up rowboats in a backwater beach town. I wanted to be just about anywhere else right then. I wanted to act. I wanted to fight. I wanted Ernie Pyle to write a story about me capturing a bunker full of Nazi generals all by myself, that my parents could put in a scrapbook to show their neighbors. I wanted to get kisses (and more) from pretty French girls happy to be liberated. I was itching for war, just as much as I was six months ago.

And then I got my wish.

A coastal patrol plane out of Dover spotted her first, about ten miles south of Cape May, just before sunrise. I was already on duty in a tower north of Rehoboth. We picked the U-boat up easily, its sail dark and angular against a bright white and blue horizon.

Why she surfaced in broad daylight I'll never know, but I didn't care why. God damn, this is what we've been waiting for! We were overjoyed, yelling out fire control orders to send down to the guns, screaming like the world was ending and we were providing artillery support for the four horsemen.

She realized she was in danger and tried to get back out to sea, but it was too late. We hit her amidships, and a geyser of smoke and flame erupted a hundred feet in the air over the water. When we saw we'd hit her, we all cheered like wild men -- we were ecstatic, like we had personally landed a right hook on Adolf's jaw. We saw her break in two, and she went down in 150 feet of water.

Patrol boats went out to the area to pick up what they could. Amazingly, they pulled five guys from U-692 out of the water alive. Five out of 49. I didn't get much of a look at them when they were at the Fort. The four lightly injured ones were sent to Fort Delaware upriver to sit out the war. The fifth guy didn't last a day. He looked like he was 19 or 20, like me. He'd been badly burned but somehow managed to get out of the boat alive. One of his shipmates helped him keep his head above water until the rescuers fished them out.


I heard him crying in the infirmary that afternoon, moaning and weeping through the haze of whatever they gave him to numb the pain of his wounds. Mamma, lassen mich nicht sterben hier! or something like that. I was off duty and hanging around my barracks, polishing my boots, and wondering whether to go for a swim before dinner. The window by my bunk opened toward the back of the infirmary, and so I sat and listened to this kid's agonies for a good hour or so before I couldn't stand sitting there anymore. I decided to stop by the infirmary with the excuse I needed some ointment for a sunburn (which I did often enough anyway), just to get a look at him.

I walked around the front of the infirmary and went in. I stood and waited for a moment, since the nurse was in the ward rather than in the receiving room. While I stood there, an elderly man came in behind me -- a minister from Lewes I recognized from a service they had at the base one Sunday.

"Excuse me, son, can you tell me where the nurse on duty--"

At that point, the nurse walked quickly into the office from the ward and showed him right in, after giving me a stern look that said "wait here."

I didn't, of course.

I stood there for a few seconds, and then got up the nerve to walk over to the doorway and peek around the corner after them. I nearly fainted at what I saw. There was a row of clean, white, tube-framed beds, starched sheets stretched tight across the mattresses, smelling like antiseptic and gleaming pale yellow in the hazy, afternoon sun. On the bed closest to the door was the sailor -- the boy. He was a mass of wet, bloody bandages from head to toe. His linen-wrapped arms and legs worked against the bedsheets, and his head rolled slowly from side to side, as if he were saying no, no to what he must have known was coming.

The minister sat down next to the bed, and said something that seemed to calm him down, I guess it was in German. The duty nurse caught me looking and shook her head with a sad look on her face before drawing the curtain across the bed.

I left and went to dinner, though I wasn't really hungry anymore.


When I came out of the mess hall about an hour later, I saw the minister coming out of the infirmary, followed by the duty nurse and the doctor. He shook hands with the doctor while the nurse blotted her eyes with her handkerchief.

I thought of him being the same age as me. I thought of my life being cut short like that, and how my ma would feel getting that letter. I felt confused, and I felt bad. But I remembered there were plenty of our boys whose mammas had got that letter. I took a deep breath of the salt air and the diesel.

I guess he's one less Nazi we have to fight. Isn't he?

I went back to my post.

They loaded his body onto a truck the next morning, I don't know where it went.


The rest of the war was quiet. We kept watch, we drilled, and we got sunburned. I met a girl in Rehoboth -- she was nice, but neither of us were looking to go steady. We went dancing on Saturday nights when I wasn't on duty. Her parents didn't mind -- they knew I'd be going home soon, and didn't think I'd be very good farmer material, but they figured I was harmless and they were right.

I didn't see another U-boat until U-858 surrendered in May of '45. She steamed into our waters, broadcasting "This is Kriegsmarine vessel U-858, we surrender, we surrender" in the clearest English they could manage on a boat full of Germans. She was boarded and escorted into Lewes a few days later, and her crew was sent to the POW camp at Fort Delaware. Most of these guys were also my age, and even the commander was only 27. Compared to us, though, they looked like frail old men -- pasty, thin and dirty. But they looked relieved, not scared. I remember reading in the newspaper about a week later that the U-boat's commander had told our guys "we have been waiting for you to finally win the war." The Navy sent U-858 to the Philly Naval Yard before using her for target practice, and her crew went home at the end of 1945.

We got sent home too, after they finally finished off the Japanese in August. The Army kept us until October, until Japan officially surrendered and until they could figure out how they'd get us all home in one piece. I was in the first group they discharged on October 15. They put us all on a bus and sent us up to Wilmington, and from there I took the train back to my parents in New Jersey. Mom and pop met me at the train station -- no more scrapbooks or letters for them, I was home. I was 21 years old then. I was glad the war was over.


Fiction.

To my knowledge, Fort Miles never sank a U-boat during World War II. U-692 didn't exist. U-858 was the first U-boat of the Kriegsmarine to surrender, and was brought to port in Lewes.

The fire control towers of Fort Miles still stand along the Delaware coast.

Scrap"book` (?), n.

A blank book in which extracts cut from books and papers may be pasted and kept.

 

© Webster 1913.

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