My fathers canteen by Tom Poland

The canteen hung from a nail in my parent’s attic for decades. My father brought it home from Hiroshima. He brought back, too, Earth Superior binoculars and a Japanese rifle and bayonet. The rifle is missing. Its bayonet remains. War relics.

Look closely. You’ll see the designation U.S. A.G. M. Co. 1942 on this World War II canteen. A.G. M. stood for the Aluminum Goods Manufacturing Company. Check eBay. Folks are selling history, war relics.

Dad never mentioned this canteen and I don’t recall ever seeing it growing up. I brought it home thinking that it was my old Scout canteen. Then I learned that it was a World War II canteen. It’s been dry a long time. Seventy-two years or more.

The bayonet is a Type 30 bayonet designed for the Imperial Japanese Army. They are on sale on eBay, too. As for the Earth Superior binoculars, they are just an old pair Dad came by in the 1940s. A little research reveals they look more like Jumelle Duchess binoculars, with the French word, “Jumelle,” meaning opera glasses. Most were made in Paris. I doubt you’d find those in a foxhole. How Dad came by them is a mystery.

A lot of people metal detect battlegrounds hoping to find war relics. Maybe they should check the attics of their fathers’ home. Men carry things in wartime. Soldiers must carry canteens, guns, bayonets, and helmets. And they bring these things home. Dad brought back silk flags, relics of his time in Japan. As a boy I’d unfold them, a rising sun with spectacular rays burst off the alabaster silk as if afire. Japan—Land of the Rising Sun. My father brought memories of Hiroshima home but he never discussed them. And the flags? Lost by me.

About seven years ago, a woman gave me a book, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. After graduating from college in 1968, O’Brien received a draft notice. He reported for service and went to Vietnam. O’Brien would go on to be a reporter and then an author.

In The Things They Carried, he takes us into the soldiers’ combat lives in unforgettable ways. In a dry, matter-of-fact style he creates powerful images. “The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water.”

O’Brien wrote of the personal things men carried, too. “Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April. By necessity, and because it was SOP, they all carried steel helmets that weighed 5 pounds including the liner and camouflage cover. Very few carried underwear. Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried 6 or 7 ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity.”

O’Brien wrote that, “They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.”

I can only guess what Dad carried. He served in U.S. Army Ordnance and went to Hiroshima just after the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy.” And he went to Nagasaki. He was at most, 19 or 20. The things he must have seen. Skinless people. Dad never talked about things like that, but he carried them.

He returned to Georgia with evidence of his Hiroshima days: a canteen, a rifle and bayonet, flags, and photos. The photos reveal block after block of charred rubble with I-beams drooping like melted candles. Total destruction. Dad carried those images.

Dad’s canteen is dented and the bayonet is rusty. Did it kill a U.S. solider? I have no way of knowing, but unlike the people selling these things on eBay, I choose to keep these war relics, reminders that Dad carried wartime things in his head, but what I’ll never know. He just didn’t talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I’m thankful my father returned from war intact: no missing limbs, no mental troubles, and no recurring nightmares. He succumbed to cancer late in life and a doctor told me his days in Hiroshima contributed to it, a wartime casualty of sorts. He carried a seed of sorts all those years … if you think it was one watered by the canteen you see here, well, you’d be right.

Image: The photo of "My fathers canteen" was taken by © Tom Poland.

Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of fourteen books, 550 columns, and more than 1,200 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, and South Carolina Country Roads. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground.

He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks to groups across South Carolina and Georgia. He’s the editor of Shrimp, Collards & Grits, a Lowcountry lifestyle magazine.
Governor McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon him October 26, 2018 for his impact upon South Carolina through his books and writing because “his work is exceptional to the state.”

Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He grew up in Lincolnton, Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina.

Visit Tom's website at Email him at [email protected].