"Extry, extry, read all about it."
That's me hollering at the custom cutters standing around in front
of the pool hall in my hometown waiting for the fields to dry out so
they can cut our wheat and move on north.
I am ten years old and I am the Wichita Beacon paperboy in town. I
usually holler "Extry, extry, read all about it" for two reasons:
because that's what Big Town paperboys holler in comic books and movies,
and because the Beacon always sends me more papers than I have delivery
customers for. They're extra papers and I try to sell them on Main
Street by hollering "Extry, extry, read all about it" even when there's
not much to read all about.
But today is Tuesday, June 6, 1944, and the Beacon has big black
headlines about some place called Normandy. The custom cuttersmostly
men in their 40s and 50s along with their junior high and high school
sonsbuy up all the extras I have.
And at a nickel apiece, four cents of which I get to keep, so I
feel pretty good.
But I'd feel good even if I weren't making the extra money, because
the Beacon is full of good news. We're about to win the war. The
invasion of Normandy is the beginning of the end. Everyone says so.
And so far, it seems awfully easy. The AP stories on the front
page tell us that "Allied losses in every branch were declared to be far
less than had been counted upon," that airborne losses were "extremely
small" and naval losses "very, very small." Winston Churchill says
"This operation is proceeding in a thoroughly satisfactory manner."
And an AP frontline correspondent reports that "Allied landing
forces have established beachheads on the coast of northern France and
are slashing their way inland."
I like "slashing their way inland." I see an army of Errol Flynns
swordfighting the Nazis all the way back to Germany.
Of course, there's no reason the invasion shouldn't be going well.
Isn't General Dwight D. Eisenhower in charge? And isn't he from Kansas?
There on the front page is what Ike had told the troops just before
the invasion: "You are about to embark on a great crusade. The eyes of
the world are upon you and the hopes and prayers of all liberty loving
peoples go with you."
You don't learn to talk like that in Missouri.
And right next to that is a request by FDReven though he is a
Democratasking that the nation join in "a prayer for Divine aid in
speeding the invasion to victory."
So it's going to be a piece of cake, a milk run as they say in the
movies about Flying Fortresses.
It's an idea we like because even in a little town of 687 people in
southwest Kansas, we can never forget the war. Kids like me buy Victory
Stamps and collect rusty scrap iron and old inner tubes and cans of
bacon grease for the war effortand wonder if it will still be going on
when we're old enough to be drafted.
The Truth, Mainly
Nearly every male in town between 18 and 35 is in the service,
including five brothers in the Murphy family. Frank Boyd and Bob
Ridgeway were killed in 1943, Frank on a submarine in the Pacific, Bob
in a tank in Africa. And Duke Williamson died two months ago when his
parachute didn't open after he had to bail out over Germany. I know
them mainly through the pictures of the '38, '39, and '41 graduating
classes that hang in the halls of our high school. All three are
But I knew Charles Bartlett even before he got drafted last
yeareveryone in his family goes to our churchand he gets a leg full
of German shrapnel the week after D-Day. They send him to Fitzsimmons
Military Hospital in Denver to recuperate and my father gives him a ride
home a month or so later.
What was it like, I ask him from the backseat of our car somewhere
in eastern Colorado. I am still thinking of Errol Flynn slashing his
way inland. Charles doesn't say anything about pieces of cake or milk
runs. He doesn't say anything at all for a little while.
"I was scared," he finally says. He sounds a little angry. "I was
so scared I didn't want to get up and move when they told me to."
My father nods his head when he says it, but I'm shocked. I've
never heard a grown man say he was scared. Errol Flynn was never scared.
"We were all scared," Charles says. "Everyone was."
Later, after we get him home to his parents, my father tells me it
takes more courage to do something that scares you than it does to be
like Errol Flynn.
But I don't get it. I'm ten years old, and the front page of the
Wichita Beaconwhere I regularly read all about itdoesn't say
anything about people being too scared to want to slash their way inland.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.