Friday, January 31, 2014

An Island

The Rock Island Arsenal was built on a large island in the Mississippi River located between the states of Illinois and Iowa. As a Korean War veteran, my father was buried in the military cemetery on this island in 1953. When I was a teenager in the 1960s my stepfather worked on this island every day. A veteran of World War II in Europe, he had been given a job as turret-lathe operator in a complex of 19th century stone buildings owned by the U.S. government and still in use as factories for military equipment. The Vietnam War guaranteed plenty of local employment. It seems odd now to realize that the three biggest American wars of the mid 20th century all played active roles in creating my childhood circumstances. And this missile-shaped island was the focus of that involvement. Adults would sometimes take me there (along with my little brother, as below, in autumn 1954) to visit my father's grave.

Adults would also take me to the island on other occasions. I remember employee picnics on the lawns. I remember tours of the antiquated industrial spaces where my stepfather worked.

My mother was an adolescent during World War II, living within sight of Arsenal Island. According to her, some of the buildings were in use then as prisons for captured Nazis. My mother believed the German soldiers had been treated with outrageous kindness. "THEY got bananas to eat every day, when WE couldn't find bananas in the stores at any price!"

Even at a young age I tended to doubt my mother's stories.