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From the Corner of Broadway and Main Street by John Armstrong

Posted on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Perspective is a concept that anybody can understand regarding space. All you have to do is look down the center of a rail road and see how the rails seem to merge about a mile down the way. It’s a little more difficult to grasp when you are talking about time. The here and now is always demanding your unwavering attention so it is hard to conceive of an immediate task becoming inconsequential. Consider the point of view of a teenager where every issue is stark black and white, they are either on top of the world or lower than whale excrement in the bottom of the Mariana Trench. If your try to allay their fears they consider you patronizing. When you try to temper their expectations you are raining on their parade. In these situations I find it useful to recall the wisdom of Paul Smith (real person, but I have changed his name)

Paul was born in 1921 and as you might expect found himself in popular demand at the outbreak of World War II. He served in the infantry and one day to his chagrin found himself in the difficult position of having enemy in all directions with a limited supply of bullets. He was captured and put into a prison camp for the remainder of the war. At the end of the war he was released and met Mabel. They married and raised a family. Some 30 years after the war a member of the American Ex-Prisoners of War found out that Paul had been a POW. He called on Paul to invite him to join their group which had been established after the fall of Corregidor and the resulting Bataan Death March. Paul considered the request and politely declined. A short time later one of his neighbors approached Paul with much the same pitch. Again Paul declined but decided that he would just have to explain his concerns to the recruiter. So a third meeting was held, this time over lunch. Paul explained that while he was honored to receive the invitation, he regretted that he was not eligible for membership. Paul had been born in Germany. He was a soldier in the Wehrmacht. He was captured by the American Army and held in an American Army Prison Camp in Missouri.

Paul explained that when he was captured, he thought that his life was over. His sense of despair was heightened by the crossing of the Atlantic for he was concerned that a German Navy U-Boat would torpedo his troop transport ship. Upon reaching the east coast he and his fellow POW’s began the train journey to Missouri. Paul explained that he had no conception of the size of the United States. The indoctrination by the Nazi’s painted Germany was far more powerful. Paul remembered that it took three days to make the journey to St. Louis, and he knew that St. Louis was in the middle of the country. At that point Paul also knew that his country, Germany would ultimately lose the war.

While a POW Paul earned the opportunity to work on a harvesting crew. He said it was hard work but rewarding. It gave him a chance to see something other than the POW compound and enjoy a home cooked meal at lunch. He also said something about the pleasantness of seeing people not in uniform and most farmers having at least one daughter. (A sentiment seems to be a universal amongst all nationalities.) While working for local farmers Paul began to pickup English eventually mastering it, albeit with a noticeable German accent. Following V-E Day Paul had a decision to make: Stay in the United States or be repatriated to Germany. He considered the perspective he had gained in the previous three years, and the devastation that had been bestowed upon his home land, and the reputation he had developed for being a diligent worker. He decided that he would stay in the United States. Of course the fact the he was smitten by Mabel may have had something to do with the decision. As for the recruiter, well he agreed that Paul did not meet the letter of the requirements for membership. But he also realized that they did share a very common experience. Paul became an unofficial member in good standing. Funny thing about perspective, you don’t notice it in your development, only when you reach a terminal point does it become so fully apparent.



John Armstrong is a Vice President with Peoples Bank & Trust Company in Elsberry.