My father was trained as a Marine in Parris Island in OCS. He specialized in guerilla warfare. His specialty would have made him a valuable commodity during the escalating US engagement in Vietnam. He never saw combat, the army doctors discovered that my father had had polio as a child and that his mismatched polio legs made him ineligible to fight.
In retrospect I believe that he was shamed by his deformity and tried to compensate by playing as if he was still a Marine. He barked orders at my mother and me. He was going to night school for a joint Business and Law degree. On weekends he had a lover. I saw him rarely, but when I did, his presence and almost uncontrolled violence could be felt throughout our small apartment.
If he was home early enough to see me off to bed, we had an odd ritual. As a child of four or five, I remember that he would have me march to martial bands on the record player. He would count and I would need to march properly before he would send me to bed. In my bedroom he hung up small models of WWII airplanes. He would grill me on the names of the planes. My childish voice shouted “Messerschmitt-- Spitfire.” He hung a large map of the world and would quiz me on the location of the countries, state capitals and state birds before he would allow me to sleep.
When I lay asleep at night sometimes I would hear my mother screaming at him to stop. I could smell model glue burning. He was taking his model airplanes, setting them on fire and throwing them out the window to watch them fly their fiery plunge to the street. I grew to hate firworks, they reminded me of the small explosive airplanes as the glue popped.
In the morning he would stomp into my room yelling “Raus! Actung!" pulling off the covers and throwing ice cubes onto my nighty and banging pots and pans in my ears to wake me up. When I opened my eyes, I would see him standing over me with a crazy smile "This is how they woke us up in the Marines.”
On some weekends he would time me on an obstacle course that he had devised in the playground across the street and give me drills. I was dragged to World War Two movies in theaters and these movies were on TV so often in our house that I had dreams with German soldiers speaking German- and I understood them. My parents divorced when I was six. My father's martial influence was confined to alternate weekends. We frequented military Army and Navy stores to buy “stuff” . There was always a book on deadly face to face combat in his bathroom and he continued to collect guns.
When I went to college, I lived in his very large apartment on Fifth Avenue in NYC. One morning I woke up to hear loud gunshots in the back hall way. He was using this long hall way for target practice. My close friend was spending the summer at his apartment. She was trapped in one of the maid’s room while the shots were being fired. I started yelling at him to hold fire. My friend emerged trembling. Perhaps my father is eccentric….or perhaps he is just racked with guilt for having the polio legs that saved him from combat in the jungles of Vietnam.