Thomas Wall, born around the early 1950’s, was not yet conceived during World War Two (WWII).
In this interview, Thomas shares stories his parents told him about their experiences during WWII. These stories includes his parents’ memories of bombing while living in London, England, his mother’s recollections as a nurse with the Royal Air Force (RAF), and their sentiments towards him being drafted to the Vietnam War, post WWII.
Close Calls in London
I think I shared with you earlier that it’s a miracle I’m sitting here. My mom had an apartment in London and on two different occasions, [it was bombed].
The first time, they went out to dinner. They went around the corner to a pub and they came back to find that during the air raid that interrupted their dinner, a bomb had eliminated the building she was living in. If they hadn’t gone out, they wouldn’t have been around five years later to conceive me.
And so, mom moves. And within the year, the scenario repeats: they’re out to dinner and a B-1 rocket—the drone of World War II—took out the entire block where her apartment was. And they looked at each other like: “I can’t believe we have to move again!” And then, replace everything that she had. But that shows that I was twice blessed.
Why Mom Worked As A Nurse
Mom was born in County Kerry in Ireland. She was the eldest of five. She went to a convent school, which means that, no, she wasn’t going to be a nun. She was taught by nuns. And she had followed the track to become a nurse and then developed a specialty of being a thoracic or chest surgeon nurse.
Education at a nun school, a convent school, got her to be a nurse. And the war started in 1939 for England. She was following her calling [to] provide health services and also the calling to be of service to the country. Even though she was Irish, they were part of Great Britain—or what was formerly known as Great Britain. That’s how she did that.
Difficulty Sharing the Past
It’s interesting that when you try to talk to people who were there, they really censor and limit the amount of information that they share about those times. Because the emotional wounds and the trauma of going through that were so deep and so pervasive that it only takes a little scratching on the skin for those to erupt.
But in that conversation, back to my dad and how much can they tell you in terms of detail: he was halfway through the second sentence, and his voice cracked and he broke into tears. And he just put his hand up and he said, “No more.” It was like in his mind, he just shut down the projector and sound system. He was back there.
Parents’ Reactions to the Vietnam Draft
I know how my dad felt about [the Vietnam War] as well. [My parents] both felt the same. I graduated high school in ‘66 [and] college in ’70. And I had a deferment; there was a [draft] lottery. I had a low lottery number—low for Cleveland, Ohio, anyway. 138 was the number. But they went to 200 or so. They went pretty deep in the numbers.
I’d been through all my physical exams and the tests, and the Army was ready to give me a one-way ticket to Vietnam. And [my parents] sat me down at the kitchen table and they said, “We wanted to share something with you about our thoughts on the decision that’s before you. And let you know you have some options you’re probably not aware of.” And my dad said, “Your mother and I have agreed that we don’t want any member of our family ever to have to go through the experiences that we did.” Referring to World War II.
And they then said, “You have options. And the first one is that you still have family in Ireland: cousins. And if you choose not to enlist or not to respond to the draft notice, that’s your decision. We’ll do whatever needs to be done financially and otherwise to get you to Ireland. You can live with family there.”
We also have family, my mother’s brother [is] one of them, [who] lived in Montreal at the time. And [my dad] said, “You know, you have family in Canada. You’ve stayed with them. If you stay with them if you want to go stay with Uncle Chris or any of his extended family up there, we’ll back you 110% on that, too. And lastly, if you decide to serve, we want you to know that we’ll support that, too. It’s your choice.”
I was struck dumb, I was speechless. Not expecting to have this kind of conversation or to feel the unbridled love that they were saying. But it was also an expression of how terrible their experience in England was during the war, how bad it was.
Cleaning Out the Planes
[Dad] told me often fire trucks weren’t used so much to put the fire out. And he pauses. The firemen would actually get inside the planes, if it were salvageable, and they’d use the fire hose to watch the body parts and the blood out of the fuselage of the plane. It wasn’t uncommon that you’d carry an arm out.
“Well, where’s the guy that goes with?” They knew he was badly hurt and so they put his parachute on him, bandaged him as best they could, and pulled the ripcord and threw him out the door.