By Hardy Jackson
I grew up among veterans.
World War II, mostly. Though I had an uncle who served in World War I, the veterans who defeated Hitler and Tojo are the ones I remember.
My Daddy was one.
What I recall most was how little he talked about what he saw, did, and endured. I wanted to know. Wanted to compare his exploits to what I had seen in the movies or on TV. Daddy did not attend war movies and he resolutely avoided WWII documentaries on TV. Did not want to remember.
But once his guard broke down.
It was back in the early ‘50s. I was not yet in my teens. Daddy and I were on the way to the coast. For lunch we stopped at a little pizza place. I had never eaten pizza with my father, didn’t even know that he knew what it was, much less liked it.
We went right in and placed our order. Mine was pretty standard – cheese, sausage, etc. His was much the same until, in closing, with a flourish, he added “anchovies.”
I didn’t know what they were.
Then the meal arrived and I saw them, little brown fish with what looked like tiny hair sticking out.
Daddy saw me looking. “Wanna try a slice?”
Now I was a big boy. Recently my Daddy had introduced me to raw oysters. So, I figured that if my Daddy could eat an anchovy, I could eat an anchovy.
So, I did.
And while I was enjoying this new treat, he told me why he liked anchovies so much.
World War II. Up in the front line. Lonely and scared, he wrote Mama that he missed her, missed two-year-old me and missed sardines. For some reason, he did not explain, the thought of sardines reminded him of home.
Mama took the hint and with some of her precious ration stamps she bought a few tins, packed them up and shipped them to her husband who was in the process of bringing down the Third Reich.
The day the delicacy arrived was the day that Daddy’s unit “liberated” a German supply depot. In it they discovered crates of anchovies, waiting to be sent to Hitler’s troops. From the way Daddy told it, he and his fellow warriors fell on the prize like vultures and ate until they could eat no more.
Meanwhile, Daddy took Mama’s sardines, stuffed them in his pack, and wrote his wife thanking her for the treat. As far as she knew, he enjoyed them on arrival, not weeks later when the anchovies were gone.
So, my Daddy and I shared a secret. And in the years to come, when we ate pizza, we shared anchovies.
Thank you, veterans, for the country we love.
And thank you for anchovies.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at email@example.com