Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

September 19, 2010

War Prisoners and Soccer

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

During World War II, my father was stationed for a period of time at Fort Knox, KY.  It was a totally new world to me.  The regimen, the security, the housing, and the bustle of the military base excited and challenged me.  I believe that each day brought another insight . . . and sometimes, fear to me.

I know I felt part of something larger than the world I had known.  I certainly fantasized when I would see  the large tanks and hear the noise from the training grounds.  I am not sure I understood all the ravages of war, yet I knew it was a scary time. 

 I had known the possibilities of war back home before my father was drafted.  (Read blog, My Family and World War II, www.lawsonjolly.com/2010/03/29)  Air raids were not uncommon.  Watching and attempting to identify planes from the chart that hung in my club house had made me know we were at war.   Scrap iron and paper drives at the school were for the purpose of supporting the war effort.  As a fourth grader, I was not ignorant of war, but being on the army base intensified my understanding.

I can recall learning my father’s identification number in case I had to give evidence that I was allowed on the base and to go to the commissary and ball fields.  I was never asked, but I learned it so well that I still know it today.  There was another boy about my age that lived next to us.  We would go together to the ball field to watch soccer.  It was a new sport to me.  I had never seen it.  In fact, few Americans knew the game in those days.

The soccer was played by German prisoners.  Fort Knox was one of the military bases where German prisoners were held.  Rarely ever was there an escape attempt.  The prisoners felt safe and that they would be returned home one day.  As part of their privileges, they were allowed to play soccer.

The only fence around the soccer field was a wire fence about four feet high.  It was not used to contain the prisoners, but only to keep the ball from rolling out of sight of the guards.  There was the fear that a prisoner might chase an errant ball to a point that he could not be observed by the guards.

As I would sit on the hillside to watch the game, a ball would roll to the fence.  A German prisoner would come over to retrieve it.  Inevitably, he would pause and look up at me.  He would smile and wave.  I would respond likewise.  This would happen on many occasions.  I realized, also, that many times other prisoners would look at me and wave.  I had no fear of them and felt they were like other people I knew.  I knew they spoke another language, but they could have been men from my hometown!

I don’t know how much I understood in those days, but it certainly has come home to me!  With my blond hair, they were probably reminded of their sons back home in Germany.  How did they really feel?  Without knowing, I can speculate.  They perhaps recalled sitting at the dinner table with their son, or playing soccer with him, or helping him with homework, or going to church together.

Those men were prisoners in America.  As war was devastating their homeland, they certainly had mental questions.   Were their families alive?  What were they having to endure if they were alive?  What about their children?  Were they surviving?  Would they ever be reunited with those they loved?

Our troops were away fighting . . . separated from those they loved.  Yet, they knew their families were “safe” in America.  I am certainly not seeking to be supportive of Germany’s purpose in the war.  I am focusing on the humanity of the German prisoners and soldiers.  They had feelings as all other fathers —  regardless of their reasons for fighting.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could relate as human beings to one another on such a level?  To know the ultimate cost of war on individuals, families, and especially children could perhaps aid us in seeking to find more reasonable means of dealing with conflict in ideologies.  War is devastating to everyone.

I can never know if some of those smiling prisoners, with a deep burden in their hearts, ever saw their children again.  But it behooves me to be compassionate.  I am grateful that the smiles and waves of those German prisoners playing soccer impacted my feelings!

“Seek peace and pursue it.”  (Psalms 34:14)  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

Lawson

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