By Alan Koenig
George “Cousin Georgie” Mayer, the last living member of my family to fight in WWII, died earlier this summer. In February of 1942, at the age of eighteen, he was drafted and spent the entire war fighting in the Pacific theater under General Douglas MacArthur.
Georgie saw continuous action — except for two periods of convalescence after contracting malaria — and his eventual return to Chicago after an absence of three years is a hallowed chapter of family legend. He died after a thirty year battle with leukemia. What’s unusual about his story is we know how it got him.
In late August or early September of 1945, on only his second day in occupied Japan, a “deuce and half” truck from his unit pulled up and some soldiers asked Georgie if he wanted to visit Hiroshima. In one of those historically haunting moments in which future consequences are unknown, he accepted. While recalcitrant about many of his battle experiences, Georgie was more forthcoming about visiting Hiroshima, mostly because there wasn’t all that much to tell.
“There was simply nothing there. All day long we walked around in dust, nothing but dust.”
Highly radioactive dust. The first atomic bomb had been dropped only about four weeks before his unit’s macabre visit. By the time Georgie was diagnosed in the late seventies, the VA administration was tracking the soldiers from that fateful truck as well as many other luckless American military tourists. A strange corollary to the epochal tragedy of Hiroshima: The VA deserves credit for the intensive care they gave him over three decades, care widely believed by my extended family to have extended his heroic life.
Alan Koenig is a Ph.D. student, teaching fellow, writer, and political analyst living in Queens, NY.
The Owls is a literary experiment that cross-posts here by the generosity of 3Quarksdaily. “A Deuce and a Half” forms part of an ongoing project called “Stamps” featuring writing and images about places. Other recent posts in the Stamps project have included a photograph by Frederick Schroeder, a poem by Kirsten Andersen, and an essay by Sean Hill. If you would like to get updates from The Owls, send an email with the word “Subscribe” to owlsmag[at]gmail[dot]com.