December 14th, 2002

Our Boy Alex


During the war Alex was a Teletype operator with the US Army Signal Corps in England. At a rate of 97 flawless words per minute he relayed intelligence reports of German troop movements, locations of enemy aircraft and naval vessels, and even the goings on in the Fuhrer's high command--all of it extremely Top Secret stuff. Sometimes Alex read what he typed, other times he thought of something else as he kept his machine chattering along. It was a great duty assignment. He was always on the move from one RAF base to another. Two weeks here, three weeks there. All over England.

A reporter from Stars and Stripes did a profile of Alex. There was something pretty strange going on with that particular Signal Corps Teletype operator. Which was that not too long after Alex settled into a new duty station, the one he'd just left would be hit hard by the Luftwaffe or the V-1 buzz bombs. This happened too many times to be just a coincidence. Where Alex was, the bombs weren't. Luck of the Irish. That was it. Luck of the Irish.

Back in Youngstown, Ohio, a columnist for the Vindicator picked up the story and started keeping score. Our boy Alex on the move in England. Good copy. And thus Alex became a hometown celebrity for a while. His mother, Josephine, clipped out those columns and put them in an old cigar box where she kept his V-mail letters home, and regularly showed them to her friends who came over for their weekly card games. "Our Boy Alex. That's my son," she'd say.

* * *

The steel mill job was waiting for Alex when he returned from the war. He resumed his duties as a shipping clerk. During The Depression a steady job like that was the most important thing a guy could ever have. He knew it, everyone knew it. He was lucky. But after the war, well, what can you say? One day you are in Piccadilly Circus celebrating the great Allied victory, knowing you are a part of history. The girls are kissing you, handing you bottles of champagne, because you are a hero! And then the next day you're back in a crowded, crummy office, filing invoices.

Those days in England were gone, and he'd brought very little of it back with him. A few souvenirs, which now were in the bottom drawer of his dresser. A Zippo, with an English coin on its shining chrome surface. A Nazi officer's dagger, with a yellow handle and a woven silver cord. A couple dozen black and white photos of that celebrating mob at Trafalgar Square on VE Day. Very small prints, not more than two by two inches. During the war you had to conserve everything. Someone told him there was silver in photos, that's why they cut back on the size.

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