Of Heroic Lineage

And just like that, it was over.

Liberty ships and troop transports began to load up, sometimes 15,000 men at a time, their decks stacked six-high with bunks. By September 30, 1946, Operation Magic Carpet had returned over 8 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines back to American shores from the European and Pacific theaters.  The war was over. Here’s your discharge. Thank you very much.
Many of the veterans found their way back to their old lives, retaking their place at the family farms and stores. Some took advantage of the GI Bill and got a college degree. Many bought their first homes on VA loans and started families. But many had a tough go. They were crippled. Disfigured. Mentally ill. Most suffering from PTSD, they’d never again find any semblance of normalcy in their lives.

There were heroes who’d seen action - the fighter pilots, the tail-gunners, the tank drivers, the Marines charged with taking beaches and mountains inch by bloody inch – who missed the noise, the excitement, the adrenaline-pumping existence of a life lived at full speed, who found their old life utterly, completely and devastatingly boring. Some of these men returned to service. In the new America, after all, another war would always be just around the corner.

Some though, found what they were looking for on the expanding American highways: speed, freedom, open horizons, camaraderie, and life on the edge. It was all there. They began to form motorcycle and hot rod clubs. They lived a relatively obscure life of satisfaction.
In 1947, came the Hollister Riot. LIFE magazine took notice of the new breed of men, these outlaws, these “1%ers.”

And in 1948, one of those “pissed off bastards” from Bloomington, California split with his motorcycle club and created something new: The HELLS ANGELS.


Enbrethiliel said...


*dawning on me slowly*

Oh . . .

Hardly anyone ever mentions this consequence of fighting a foreign war. There may be some who even wish the veterans hadn't come home at all. Then history could be swept under the carpet and everything could be nice and neat again.

Have I ever mentioned that Nick Joaquin wrote a sequel to The Pied Piper of Hamelin in which the children were returned some years later and nobody wanted them back? This is like that. (Before you think I'm teasing you again, I don't have this book, either. I'm not sure what happened to my family's copy and the text itself has been out of print for decades.) I bring this up because this story seems related to your previous one. Both are forms of human sacrifice; it's just that in this case, as in the Joaquin story, the sacrifices get to come back.

cyurkanin said...

I expect that Joaquin story to appear for me in the near future now, ma'am. That sounds incredible!

Sometimes (often?) I do things subconsciously (ignorantly?) and don't realize until later what I've done. I've relied upon your thoughtful commenting for years now to help me figure it all out :)

The "wishing they hadn't come back" theme has been around globally for a long time but was especially brutal after the Vietnam mess. I'd venture to say that the effects of today's horrible misadventures are as bad or worse than anything we've ever seen here in the US, though you wouldn't know it unless you investigated yourself. The government as it so often does, "denies all knowledge." So much domestic abuse, so much depression, mysterious medical problems, and suicide among returning vets. I know plenty personally.

I think since WWII, those who push the idea of the "Good War" have distorted the American psyche irreparably.

td Whittle said...

Well, here's my two cents, from my own family. Grandpa fought in WWII, against the Japanese. He was a young sergeant. He did not talk about it much because, when he did, Grandma tended to hush him up. He did tell me that they would survive for days in swamps and sometimes drink airplane fuel, desperate to numb themselves. Anyway, his platoon was ambushed and they all died, save Grandpa, who was shot and left for dead with a bullet lodged next to his spine. He recovered fully but was always an epileptic. The good side is that, due to his naturally cheerful temperament and his belief that he had fought because it mattered that he do so, meant that he did recover fully and lived a great life. On the other hand, I've got an uncle and some older acquaintances who were not shot or otherwise physically injured in Vietnam, but who never recovered their mental health. They never believed in the war they were fighting. Besides individual differences in capacity to manage terrible stress and trauma, I think that matters a lot how a person perceives what they were doing and what they did and why they did it. Grandpa never questioned himself as a fighter in the "Good War" but the Vietnam vets -- well, how could they not?

cyurkanin said...

A valuable 2 cents as usual, td.

cyurkanin said...

Don't have time to comment further at the moment, but I'd like to add later so please check back!

cyurkanin said...

Td, you said, "how could they not?" - what do you think was the difference in soldiers who fought without question during WWII and those who found it so difficult in Vietnam?

td Whittle said...

Hi, Christopher. Well, my experience with them has been that the men who fought in WWII felt like heroes saving the free world, even if they paid a horrible price to do so. Whereas, the men I've known who fought in Vietnam and Korea often did not enlist, but were drafted; did not understand why they were there, as the wars did not seem "right" to them; and participated in activities which they felt morally compromised them. Two of the men I knew (and one I still do know) won't even speak about what they did, except to say that it was wrong and terrible, basically -- and they drink a lot.

The reason I think this matters as far as how bad the trauma is and how well they recover (or not) is based on my work with victims of interpersonal trauma. How they made sense of what happened to them made a huge difference in their later ability to heal -- i.e. whether they blamed themselves, whether they felt guilty for disclosing the abuse, whether they remained silent about the abuse and therefore seemed complicit to those who do not understand, etc.

Also, I've worked with some police officers, paramedics, nurses, etc. who've been impacted by trauma to such an extent that they could no longer could continue in their jobs. Hands down, what was hardest for them were events involving hideous damage/death to children or to others with whom they closely identified (as being like themselves or their own loved ones). I think that happens all the time to men at war.

td Whittle said...

Sorry to be so wordy, but one more thing: what I meant by "how could they not" too was that Vietnam and Korea were much more controversial US military engagements, and many of the young men did not go willingly. WWII, on the other hand, divided the world into two distinct halves: the Axis powers (Evil) vs. the Allies (Heroes). I am speaking in terms of my understanding based on my reading about that time, and speaking to people who lived through it, rather than espousing my personal opinions -- though I would largely agree with them. The world had to respond to Hitler and his ilk. Men enlisted willingly for WWII, if they were fit and able to do so, because it was what good men did (ideologically speaking).

cyurkanin said...

td, thanks, though I guess the question I was posing to you was why did they feel so decisively in WWII as opposed to Vietnam? I'm not sure about the conscripted against their will point as over 2/3 of WWII participants were drafted via Selective Service as opposed to less than a third in Vietnam.

In your conversations, did these men from WWII feel "like heroes saving the free world" before they went to war or after they returned? Was this attitude developed afterward in response to victory? Would it have been the same narrative if the Allies had been defeated or had won less than a total surrender? It's an important line to draw in understanding the difference, I think.

The US didn't actually declare war on Germany until Germany declared war on the US following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Until the US actually entered WWII (officially) I think the whole Hitler-must-be-stopped argument only existed among a very few interested parties. A lot of influential Americans were very supportive of Hitler and the whole National Socialist movement; e.g. Ford, Lindbergh, the Bush family, et al and they were making fortunes off the German economy. At some uncertain point, when enough news of the concentration camps had leaked out, people began to see things as having "gone too far" but that was well after the fighting had already begun.

Having served myself, having worked in positions with a very high percentage of vets, coming from a family of vets, and growing up having sat alongside my dad at the VFW pretty regularly, I think the typical story from every soldier was pretty similar: "I was scared as hell and if it wasn't for the guy next to me, I wouldn't have made it back."