A man's dying is more
the survivors' affair than his own.
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

War Story

Summer of 1938

These children of Greek immigrants are trying to look grown in front of a coffee house near 2nd Street. Manhood for the older three boys will arrive in time for the coming war. Given good physical condition and a turn of fate's wheel, they will see combat.

Summer of 1944

When a member of the military dies today, the next of kin is notified in person by a small group which includes a chaplain. During World War II, the families merely got a telegram which usually began, "The Department of the Army regrets to inform you ..."

The messages came to the local the Western Union office by teletype and were printed a continuous yellow paper ribbon. The operator would clip the tape at the end of each sentence and paste the strips on the yellow message form. She would stamp a blue star on the envelopes containing casualty notification.

I delivered telegrams for a short time.

I bicycled to the corner of 14th and Duss with my blue star message and knocked on the downstairs door of an apartment over the drug store. The telegram was addressed to the tiny Polish woman who opened the door. We both knew that the news of her son was not good and I wanted to deliver and flee. She wanted to tip me. We stood while she rummaged through her coin purse for a dime.

Why do I still remember this?

Photo Credits: Arthur Rothstein
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