War is Hell, but Sometimes it Freezes Over

 

They ordered us soldiers to go below,” said Dad. “Damned if I would. If that ship went down, I was a-plannin’ ta swim fer it.

World War II took many a green farm boy and plopped him right in the middle of places as alien to him as another planet. Many, like my dad, had never even been outside the state before. James Clifton McDaniel was inducted at Ft. McClellan in Alabama in 1942. Before he was sent overseas he was stationed somewhere out in the northwest where winters get really cold. He was assigned guard duty one night during a snowstorm and got lost getting there. We don’t have blizzards in Alabama.

“I was scared half to death,” said Dad. “I mighta froze to death for one thing, and for another there was bears out there and I only had a l’il ole guard rifle.”

He managed to hunker down until dawn lightened things up enough to see he was only a few yards away from the fort. Of course he got in trouble for not relieving the guard. Getting lost and imagining non-existent bears were apparently not viable excuses to wartime brass.

Dad’s fish-out-of-water, tenderfoot mentality dogged him past our western shores when they shipped him out for Hawaii. Here was this formerly barefoot country boy whose only experience with water was swimming in Canoe Creek and fishing from its banks, and they stick him in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. His first maritime experience of an ocean storm in a ship that seemed to shrink from the dock to the depths, really rocked his world. He described giant waves “like mountains” that dwarfed the ship, sending it plunging into deep, lightless troughs.

“They ordered us soldiers to go below,” said Dad. “Damned if I would. If that ship went down, I was a-plannin’ ta swim fer it.”

Well, the ship managed to weather the storm intact, made it to Hawaii, post-Pearl Harbor of course, and deposited Dad in the land of gentle breezes and beautiful girls (this was pre-Mom, too). And although Dad earned his expert marksman medal (back then, farm boys in Alabama put meat on the table by actually hitting what they pointed a gun at), for some reason the powers that be were loath to put him at the front. They found he had a talent that superseded snowstorms and the wrath of the Trident god. He could cook. Boy, could he cook. When he made it stateside after the war with nothing more life-threatening than a sunburn, he had an expert baker’s degree and an offer from some place in California to come to work for them.

But Dad politely declined. He missed his family. He missed the farm. But thank God he didn’t miss Mom. They met and were married in 1947. I was born at home in 1948 in the middle of an unusual snowfall in Crawford’s Cove next to a cotton field.

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