Memory Lane: The Colonel’s Den

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Imagine that you’re twelve years old, visiting, with some of your friends, their cousin’s house. And you all go downstairs to what in most homes would be a cellar: but in this house, it’s a military treasure trove.

It all belongs to the cousin’s grandfather, The Colonel, relics of a long military career in the Far East. Suddenly you’re in a very different world, a world that might have been  created by Rudyard Kipling or Joseph Conrad. The lighting is subdued, and the walls hung with swords, spears, samurai gear, Japanese battle flags, and exotic weapons whose use you can’t even imagine. There are cigarette lighters made of hand grenades, artillery shells standing on the floor, and a brightly-lit aquarium, built into the wall, inhabited by fish you’ve never seen before. All very shadowy and quiet.

The Colonel himself is a tall, straight figure of a man with an iron-grey crewcut; and although I visited his house many times, I’m sure I never heard him speak. I doubt he ever knew my name.

The collection dazzles me. It would take all day to see it all. One of the Japanese battle flags has a tear in it, and a dark stain that must be old, dried blood. One is not inclined to be frivolous, down here, and loud talk is garishly out of place. I feel as if I will never be able to describe it adequately, however hard I try. But it’s also unforgettable. Almost sixty years later, I can close my eyes and see it.

What it tells me is that the world is very wide, full of peoples and places that I couldn’t hope to list, who fought battles and waged wars that I won’t be able to track down in a hundred books of history. So much vastness, in such a small space!

But The Colonel saw it all. He was there. He doesn’t need to speak: his collection says more than he can ever say.

7 comments on “Memory Lane: The Colonel’s Den

  1. It sounds like this must be where your love of Japanese swordsmanship began. What a great memory 🙂

  2. I certainly don’t want to romanticize warfare, it’s a tragic thing. Nonetheless, as long as aggressors exist, there will be wars and countries of benign intent must defend themselves when that happens. Growing up, I heard about WW II all the time and to be honest, I usually rolled my eyes when the subject came up. These days, the eye rolling has stopped.

    WW II was a horrible thing, but many brave men fought to preserve freedom. From Churchill, down to the foot soldiers living in foxholes, they are all heroes and my life has been as good as it has been directly because of these men.

    Watching Darkest Hour, a recent film about Churchill’s first days as Prime Minister, I was struck by the fact that most of the people living today would probably have never been born were it not for him. Had Britain surrendered to the Nazis, it’s unlikely that my parents would have ever met, and I would wager that is true for many people in my age group.

    I’m not suggesting that the world would not be populated, but it would be populated in a much different way had Europe remained under Nazi control. The prosperity of the postwar years may never have come and freedom would have been in short supply in many places. Truly, had Churchill not taken his stand and preserved Great Britain, the world of our day would be unrecognizable in comparison to what it is today.

    There are few WW II vets out and about these days. If I happen to meet one, I make it a point to shake their hand and thank them for all they did. I don’t care if they served as a supply clerk in Bayonne or fought the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne, they deserve every bit of thanks I can give them.

  3. I had an uncle who collected all kinds of WWII memorabilia and whenever we visited their house in Los Angeles he would bring it out and tell stories. Not nearly as impressive as the Colonel’s but a good memory for me.

    1. That was a stock photo, the best I could find. The Colonel’s collection was much cooler than that! He had exotic Asian weapons you never saw before–along with the bayonets and swords.

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