Thursday Night Fireworks 1967
by Tom Spader - 9/2015
Thursday Night Fireworks 1967
by Tom Spader - 9/2015
I can still remember the killing. The horrors of war thrown onto those so young. We learned to live for it. We learned to love it. To us, the reasoning of war was shadowed by the beauty of the battle.
It was the height of the Vietnam War, but my neighborhood was still so filled with Germans and Japanese that the three of us would kill all day long and still not get them all. Never mind the North Koreans.
We met at a place that was once a playground, under the twisted metal bars that entertained us as children...just hours earlier. We would plan our route through the now war torn town that hours ago was a pleasant slice of suburban middle class New Jersey. To kill with extreme prejudice, well, at least until five o'clock ... when that one final cry that all of us feared most would ring out. Sometimes we would drop one at a time, sometimes all at once. There was nothing we could do to mute the dreaded, “Dinner! Time to come in”.
Every day the three of us would move through the heaviest fire and against the most overwhelming odds and still come through without a scratch. We would lay in wait and take out long columns of armored divisions. Tanks disguised as Mail Trucks, supply trucks loaded heavy with ammo, under the mask of milk delivery. We took them all. A three foot wooden 2x4, painted black or a straight tree branch or store bought Hasbro held by a skilled gunner and loaded just right, could send any one of these enemy targets into a million burning pieces.
We never lost. Well, never, except for Thursday night. On this night the killing would not stop at dinner-time, it would only pause. The real battle raged after dark. Although this was the night that we would die time and time again, would couldn’t wait.
Every Thursday throughout the summer their aerial assault from the beach-head , would start at 9 pm ... unless it rained. They wouldn’t fight in the rain. We weren't allowed to.
Their missiles and cannon-fire were the only weapons that worked on us. They dropped us like flies. We would charge like heroes, our guns blazing, only to be flattened time and time again by their ruthless bombardment from the sky. We couldn’t even see them. They were launching their horror from a quarter mile away and they never missed their mark.
We would begin our charge from a fence line near some neatly planted flowers. Rumor had it that the flower bed was mined. We never stepped in that flower bed. Once, the younger of our three stomped through the flowers and he simply disappeared from our ranks until the next day. If he was injured badly, he didn’t say. We didn’t talk about things that kept us off the line.
We would rise from our crouched positions at the first muted thud from the beach signaling a missile launch and we charge screaming with our best rebel yells across the neatly trimmed lawn, across the asphalt river, only to be completely wiped out by the sound of the final blast.
We died, time and time again. Sometimes sudden like the victim of a prize fighter’s punch, straight down. Other times, like a drunken ballerina, staggering and twirling, but hitting the ground just as dead.
Sometimes they would throw one of their multi-blast missiles at us. Many horrible smaller explosions ... wounding and maiming us, sending us stumbling and turning until the final BAM! ... then down we’d go.
After we'd fall there was sometimes a long, still silence. We could hear very small distant explosions from up on the beach. We’d lay frozen in our death-like postures awaiting the next flash from the sky signaling a new life...unless the mosquitoes said otherwise. On nights that this buzzing pest reared its ugly head, our deaths did not last. To stop moving would surely mean that after all the dying there would be a sleepless night of scratching and lotions. When there are mosquitoes, a soldier must keep moving ... dead or alive.
One Thursday, without orders, we decided to take out the beach-head on our own. We met where we always met, where we were allowed to meet, where our generals expected to fight and die, just as we had done throughout the summer. Under the smoke screen of just another Thursday night, we slipped off to the enemy stronghold.
We crossed the busy Ocean Avenue getting odd looks from the civilians. Maybe it was our size, they all seemed taller. Maybe it was that they didn't know the danger they were in...they didn't know our mission.
The boardwalk lights they used made it almost impossible for a surprise attack of any strength. We decided a three soldier commando raid was in order. Crawling along the beach near the water’s edge we were shadowed from the their lights by the crest of the sand dune. It was a long crawl. We stopped occasionally to take long range sniper shots at their lookout perched high atop the captured Ferris-wheel. No sooner did we pick one of them off, when another appeared, and then another. We took turns.
As we got closer to their launch site we could see the explosive experts making ready their arsenal. We laughed at the thought of them lobbing the bombs and missiles on our now empty battleground. Did they really think that we were going to fall for the same thing every week?
As the three of us rose to charge the enemy we got the surprise of our young military careers. Just as we leaned into our assault, all three of us were grabbed from behind by pairs of large tanned, muscular hands. It seems that the same enemy that we sometimes fought on the beach during the day, as they sat in their high wooden towers, noses painted white below dark sunglasses were also guarding the beach on bombardment night.
Name, rank and serial number.
Well, name, rank and serial number may have been the order on the beach but, by the time we were taken to their headquarters they had managed to force from us the secret telephones numbers to all our bases. There was talk of trespassing and us being way too young to be on the beach alone at night. Ha, too young ...
After long discussions with our generals, who seemed a bit annoyed they had to leave their base to come here to bargain our release, our war was over. There must have been some kind of prisoner exchange that night, because we were back on base before long. We all were put on desk duty for the rest of that summer's bombing campaign. No more Thursday night battles. We pitied the world and wondered how hard it would be to learn to speak German or Japanese.
When we again we allowed to meet on what was once the battleground we were amazed to find that it somehow had turned into a giant football stadium complete with cheerleaders and screaming fans. The twisted metal bars were now neatly formed goal posts.
We no longer argued about who was going to shoot first ... we now had to figure who was going long and who had to play steady quarterback.
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(Part III of the adventures of Haiku Lou)
Observations/true story while bar tending in Baltimore 1984
The night Nixon quit through my eyes at 15
Chance meeting in a snow covered city park
Observation at the all night mini mart
Adventures of a street poet
Lou and Omba in Washington Square
God's ant-like face shines
Changing roles in a city library
Coming soon ...