I started school about the same time World War II was ending. It was a period when nearly everything had a military theme. All the magazines and newspapers advertisements featured people in uniforms, most of the radio programs had something to do with the war effort and buying bonds. Even the clothes we wore resembled those used by the military.
Naturally with all this going on around us most of our heroes weren’t athletes – they were the soldiers fighting on the battle fields as seen through newspapers and movies.
I can still remember my first career choice – tank driver. I figured if there weren’t any tank driving jobs available when I grew up I would be a pilot (but that was strictly second choice).
I was so excited about tanks that I had a scrapbook filled with pictures. Each night I’d scan through magazines and newspapers in hopes of finding a tank picture for my collection.
One of the most exciting times of my young life occurred when our neighbor’s son returned from duty in the Pacific and began schooling for a career in electronics.
Not long after his arrival he built a wooden platform in their backyard which he used for the floor for a big army tent.
He ran electricity out to the tent which contained a narrow cot and folding wooden chair along with his desk and work bench. Almost every night he’d allow me to come over and watch as he worked on radios and talked about his experiences in the army.
What made his stories so interesting was he had brought back several souvenirs which he used as props for his tales. He had a Japanese rifle, sword, bayonet, helmet, uniforms and even a cavalry saddle.
One evening he brought out a funny looking helmet covered with padded brown cloth instead of steel. "This is a Japanese tank helmet," he said.
At first I was disappointed. It didn’t look anything like I had expected a tank driver to wear. I guess I never thought about them having plenty of steel protection on the outside and needed protection from the steel on the inside.
It didn’t take long for me to outgrow my disappointment and before long I was wearing the helmet as part of my regular wardrobe.
But having a helmet wasn’t enough. I knew all tank drivers also carried a pistol and I wasn’t going to be fully dressed until I had some sort of sidearm.
After some brainstorming my neighbor came up with an idea. He took an old wooden orange crate and sawed out a pistol about a foot long. My ammunition was large rubber bands he cut from an old car inner tube.
By the time I’d stretched that rubber band back the distance of the barrel of my gun I had a weapon that packed a pretty good wallop.
I was warned not to shoot anything but targets, so we put up tin cans on his workbench and I plunked them off one at a time.
For the next several days I roamed the neighborhood wearing my tank helmet and packing my rubber band shooter pretending I’d just crawled out of my tank and was looking for the enemy.
My downfall came shortly thereafter. I walked into our house one evening and saw my sister bent over picking something off the floor.
The temptation was too great. I drilled her with my trusty sidearm. She let out a scream that would have wakened the dead. I soon learned that not only should a tank driver’s helmet be padded, so should the seat of his pants.
(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)