Remembering the fear of war

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When I was a kid, a neighbor who was a veteran of World War II used to duck every time he heard a certain zipping sound, like a sheet of ice sliding off the roof, or someone scraping their garbage can lid across the pavement. He said it reminded him of the 88-millimeter guns the Germans used in Europe.

He couldn’t help it.  The war had simply programmed him that way. He said he believed his heart actually stopped at the sound. A buddy of mine who fought in Vietnam had a similar reaction to a clicking noise. He said it was the sound they heard when someone stepped on a mine.

I recently realized I have had a similar reaction. Not to sounds, but to certain events. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7,1941, my family was living in an isolated cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin. We listened to the announcement on a battery-power radio. That night, I couldn’t sleep and spent hours staring out the window expecting enemy troops to come marching down our country road at any moment. In the morning when I got on the school bus, I was terrified that we would see bombed-out buildings on the drive to town.

I could never adequately describe that feeling to anyone until I felt it again on Sept. 11, 2001. Watching the World Trade Towers go down was the most horrific feeling of being violated I have ever known. And I felt it again in September when terrorists celebrated that unholy day by killing our ambassador and three other Americans in Libya.

America was built on the promise of freedom guaranteed by our Constitution. I believe the framers of that document felt it should include freedom from fear. I’m sure all the surviving World War II veterans who quietly observed Dec. 7th last week would agree.

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