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The Radio - A Short Story

Updated on July 28, 2012

The Radio


A few lazy snowflakes drifted by his long wire antenna, stretching from the garage peak to his bedroom window, as an excited Danny Langford made ready to attach the headphone leads to the terminal posts. Downstairs, “I can’t give you anything but love, baby’, played on the RCA, and he heard his mother humming to the music.

The crystal radio was his Boy Scout merit badge project, and with a war on, most of the parts were scavenged from trash and discards he found lying around. The coil was wound on a Quaker Oats box, and the condenser was alternating layers of gum wrapper tin foil and waxed paper. The wire for the antenna and tuning coil came from a burned out motor he found in the garage, and the insulators were glass rings carefully struck off the tops of pop bottles. The galena crystal was purchased from the Boy Scouts catalog, and the headphones were a prized gift from his grandfather. A safety pin served as a cat’s whisker to find a good spot on one of the crystal’s facets.

The phone rang in the downstairs hall.

“Danny?”

“Yes, Mom?”

“It’s Mister Winkle. He’s home from work and can’t find his paper.”

Danny had a morning paper route, delivering the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Ralph Winkle always left for work at the Wilson meat packing plant at three in the morning. He was a widower and a shift supervisor, a job he took seriously, especially since the war began. The troops needed meat, and Mister Winkle was determined that a meat shortage would never be due to his negligence.

“Tell him it’s in the flower box on the porch. It was snowing, and I didn’t want it to get wet.”

Danny heard his mom talking and then a long pause, before she talked again and hung up the phone.

“Ok Danny. He found it. He said thank you. Danny always left the paper in the porch flower box if it was foul weather, but Mister Winkle never looked there before calling. However, Danny liked the old man, so he just smiled at his forgetfulness.

The magic of a crystal radio is that it requires no power, no batteries, and no plug in the wall. The long wire antenna pulls an incredibly small amount of power out of the air from the radio station’s transmitter, and then sends it to the crystal radio through a lead-in wire.

The coil wound on the Quaker Oats box and the condenser made from foil and waxed paper, formed a tank circuit, which resonates at a certain frequency, allowing it to tune in one station while tuning others out. The tuned-in station was then rectified by a naturally occurring galena crystal and changed from radio frequency to audio, and then sent to the headphones, to the delight of millions of small boys.

Danny came by his enthusiasm for radio honestly. His father’s first job was assembling radio kits ordered from a Sears and Roebuck catalogue. He had built hundreds of battery operated radios for farmers, who at that time had no rural electric. He then opened a shop and repaired radios, studying at night and then applying what he knew during the day. By the time the war came to America, he was prospering in radio sales and repair and had earned an electrical engineering degree. He also became a ham radio operator. Now he was stationed somewhere in Europe, as a P-51 fighter pilot.

The attic had been converted into a ham radio shack, and Danny was free to use any of several receivers, including his father’s own crystal radio set, built so long ago, but Danny wanted to build his own, and he was almost ready to try it out.

“Danny? Supper.”

There was a time when he would have childishly protested such a mundane thing as supper when he was excited about trying out his new radio, but that too was before the war. When his dad was ready to leave in his new uniform, he took Danny to the attic, and they had a man to man talk.

“I know that you’re just thirteen Danny, but boys only a few years older than you are off to war, so you’ll have to be the man of the house until I get back. Your mom will be depending on you, and so will your sisters, so I’m telling them to respect you, and I’m telling you to think before you act, and then do the right thing. Don’t abuse your authority, and respect your mother. Do you read me?”

“Loud and clear, Daddy…Dad.”

A smile crossed his father’s lips, and only partly at the use off radio jargon. Danny understood the enormous burden he had just assumed and was already maturing by the way he had just addressed his father. Danny would be fine. He hugged his son and said a silent prayer.

“Be right down, Mom.”

He took a last look at the completed radio, and left to wash his hands for supper.

“Don’t play with your food, Amy”

Five year old Amy gave Danny her best scowl. “You’re not the boss of me, Danny.”

Doris Langford placed her hand over Amy’s small one. “When your Daddy left, he made Danny the man of the house, so yes, you do have to mind your big brother. Remember when Pug Wilson was going to throw mud at you?” Amy nodded. “Who was it that made him stop?”

“Amy grinned. “That old Pug Wilson is so a-scared of Danny. Boy did he ever run away.”

“I won’t boss you around Amy. I’m just going to do what I think Dad would do, and I know he would not want you to play with your food.” Danny patted her small head.

“Is Danny also the boss of me?” Eleven year old Melissa was sporting her usual good-humored and devilish smile. She was the delight of the whole family, and they all adored her. Her girlfriends all had a crush on the happily oblivious Danny, and she was very proud of her big brother.

“Danny is the man of the house, and I am counting on you, Mel, to help him when you can. Being the man of the house is an awesome load. Here, pass the potatoes.” His mother smiled at Danny. “How is the radio project coming along, son?”

“I’m done. I’ll try it out after supper.”

The two girls spoke at the same time. “Can I listen too? Can I? Can I?”

“I haven’t even heard it myself yet, for Heaven’s sake. You can listen tomorrow.”

He instantly regretted his attitude. His father would have smiled and said, “Sure you can!” Maybe he wasn’t so grown up after all.

“Well, on second thought, let me get a station in and then you both can listen. OK?”

Danny saw his mom smiling at him in approval, and he was strangely embarrassed.

With the girls waiting breathlessly, Danny attached the antenna and ground wires, and finally, the headphones. He gently swiveled the bent safety pin until the point was over one of the thousands of facets on the galena crystal. Then he lowered it and was delighted to instantly hear WMT Radio, Cedar Rapids, loud and clear, He tried other facets, but the first seemed loudest, so he left it there. He listened to it for a moment longer and then stood, removing the headphones and waving Amy into the seat. He gently placed the headphone band over her curls. Her mouth dropped open, and she turned to look at him, a big grin plastered on her face.

Melissa waited patiently for her turn, and then she too wore a big grin. Danny showed her how to use the safety pin ‘cat whisker’ on the crystal and the slide on the coil to tune in a station. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks to a crystal radio was its inability to tune out other stations very well, so a listener had to just ignore them.

After the girls left and before bed, Danny logged all the stations he could get and it wasn’t many. He heard WMT, Cedar rapids, WHO, Des Moines, and faintly, WLS, Chicago.

Danny was a sound sleeper, but something woke him about three in the morning and for a few minutes, he stared at the warm yellow glow on his ceiling, confused. Then he got out of bed, looking for the source. He didn't look long. It was a tiny facet on the crystal, off to one side and glowing a bright yellow. He sat in the chair and stared at it for several minutes. Then he put the headphones on and heard a faint, station somewhere.

Danny flipped the light switch on, but the glow instantly disappeared, so he turned it off, and it reappeared. He sat down again, and finally, he gingerly moved the point of his cat whisker to the glowing facet. What happened next stayed with him for the rest of his life.

“Jimmy! Break right...hard…bandit on your twelve o’clock…I’m at your six on top and coming down hard….got him...got him! Damn...I'm hit!”

It was his father’s voice, and then there were loud bangs, followed by silence. Then his father’s voice came back once again, but it was strangely clear and without static, like he was standing by Danny’s shoulder.

“Well Danny, looks like you’ll be taking my place for a while longer. I’m hit and on fire. I’ll need to jump. Take care of mom and the girls, son, and I’ll get back to you when I can.”

The yellow glow on the crystal's facet flickered and went out.


- To be continued

The Radio - A Short Story - Part Two

The Radio - A Short Story- Conclusion




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    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      Wow, wonderful story. This is totally awesome AND it continues.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

      Is it possible you're a crystal radio man, Will? Excellent story and brought back some memories for me. I hadn't thought about WHO in DesMoines, IA in years -- it was one of their DJs (can't remember his name) that listened to the first song I ever wrote. I called the station (at night) and he had me play and sing the song into the telephone. I was a kid and it was one of the short periods of time I lived with my mom. That night was one of the big thrills of my life. Looking forward to more of this story -- you can sure spin a fine tale, my friend. Best/Sis

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      oh yah! leave us hanging :)) thank you

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you Becky, and yes, there's more to come!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Angela!

      That DJ could have been Leo Greco or maybe Howdy Roberts.

      Yes, I have a background in electronics, and my first job was repairing radios in Central City Iowa, at 13. I built many a crystal set, and I was fascinated with the whole idea of listening to far away places.

      I can still build a working radio from parts found around the house!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi, Mhatter99 !

      I love a cliffhanger!

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 5 years ago

      Wow Will, as a ham radio operator I am loving this story. I built my first crystal set when I was about 8 or 9, and have been hooked on radio ever since. This is a really great story and I can't wait for the next chapter.

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Great story, waiting for more, Joyce.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi, Mike!

      That's one thing I always wanted to do but never had the time. Back in the old days, I was up to twenty words a minute and had my theory in order, but never took the test. Hope you liked my abbreviated explanation of how a crystal set functions! Did I get it right?

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Joyce!

      I need to go take a look at your latest...I'm behind!

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      I got the theory but never learned the code. My dad was an operator

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Then you really get this one!

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 5 years ago

      Will, it is never too late to get the license. They dropped the code requirement so that makes it much easier. As far as I recall you got the crystal set down pat.

      Mike

    • SPK5367 profile image

      SPK5367 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Wow! Neat story. I don't know much about radios, but the story still pulled me right in. I hope you don't keep us waiting too long for the rest of it.

    • Nan Mynatt profile image

      Nan Mynatt 5 years ago from Illinois

      Great story for inspiration to all of us. I marked you up on this one. You were interested in Engineering at an early age. I wish more kids would make this type of building a radio a hobby!

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      Yeah, I really got this one.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      They dropped the code requirement in the 80's, wasn't it? My husband was studying for it and had me quizzing him.

    • mattdigiulio profile image

      mattdigiulio 5 years ago

      This is wonderful, thanks for sharing. Voting up.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      The suspense and drama are weaving such an interesting read for us. Well written.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      I expect many readers guessed what was to come (so far). In fact, one of your great strengths as a fiction writer is that you allow reader's assumptions to help carry the story.

      I vauguely remember making a crystal set when a kid, and I lost an uncle in a Spitfire in similar circumstances during WW2.

      Nothing like first -and experience of your subject to give a tale that ring of truth .

      Hanging on for part two!

      Bob

    • Patriette profile image

      Patriette 5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Oh, I love ' To Be Continued' stories... especially yours, WillStarr.

    • Poohgranma profile image

      Poohgranma 5 years ago from On the edge

      Very enticing story. Love the mention of your early years memories of the places in Cedar Rapids and you brought back memories of when boys were expected to step into their father's shoes and did so willingly. I don't know if that was a good thing or too much responsibility in many cases but it sure was the truth back then.

    • CMerritt profile image

      Chris Merritt 5 years ago from Pendleton, Indiana

      MORE!

      sorry...I'm hooked like always, ready for more.

      I never took part in that experiment, but had a small transister radio when I was about 10 years old, and LOVED going to bed and picking up stations MILES away. It was the best.

      Ready for more...

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Mike and thanks!

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi SPK5367, and thank you. Part two will be along shortly!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 5 years ago

      Once again you got me in your grip. You are a fabulous storyteller. Up and awesome.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      H Nan!

      There are hundreds of kits on the market, and some are very inexpensive:

      http://www.amazon.com/Elenco-MX-901C-Crystal-Radio...

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Becky,

      I hope we never need Morse code again, because it's a dying skill.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Matt, and welcome to Will Starr world!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, teaches12345, and stay tuned.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

      You've got me hooked as usual. Love the history of this story. In this computer world it's easy to forget how important radios were for communication. Can't wait for more..

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Bob!

      I think you'll like this one, and I may get you in the end. Did you ever finish The Wolf?

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi, Patriette, and I hope you like the rest of the story.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Poohgranma!

      In those troubled times, everybody was expected to do their part and most stepped up and did it.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Chris,

      I rigged my radios with phones so I could listen to short wave while I was supposed to be sleeping. Sometimes I went to sleep anyway, which may explain where these stories come from!

      ^_^

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Pop! What's for breakfast?

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi suziecat7,

      I'm both laughing and getting a lump in my throat as I write this. It's very real for me, because the war is my earliest memory.

    • weestro profile image

      Pete Fanning 5 years ago from Virginia

      Wow, great story WillStarr,well written as always.... loved the storyline!

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, weestro!

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 5 years ago

      Now you know that I'm older than dirt and this really brought back memories. I married a WWll radio-operator and he taught me the basics of being a Ham-operator, I was the one that got to turn the hand-crank-generator. Little did I know then that it would led me on to a 42 year career in electronics.

      I got rid of that radio-operator but still enjoy listening to my short-wave receiver at night when the signals are clearer (better than TV)

      I will always admire all those great ham-operators that are there for us when we need their help.

      This is going to be another awsome story--for you are a talented raconteur.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Ginn!

      Today's kids missed out on the adventure of discovery, and early radio. Of course, there's now the adventure of high-tech, but there was just something about picking up an illusive and faint signal from halfway around the world!

      Today, it's as common as satellite service

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Will. What a terrific story. You drew the reader in and now we are part of the adventure.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thanks Mike! More to follow!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      You brought back more than a few memories with this story, Will. My husband loved to tinker with and build crystal radio sets, too. Can't wait for the next chapter of your engrossing tale. Well done.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, drbj. I would have liked your husband!

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      I so enjoyed this story. Not only because it was written so well, the information during the war is so interesting. Wonderful job with this. You are an outstanding writer.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Ah, that was good...I sort of tinkered with radios myself as a kid, you know? A tom boy I guess. Of course not to this extent.

      Look forward to the rest.

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

      Excellent short story that brought back many memories from a time that now seems so long ago. Your storyline has a very interesting hook and I look forward to the next chapter.

      I laughed to myself when I saw you mention the Sears and Roebuck catalogue as just the other day I was talking to my kids about how the catalogue coming out was such a big deal when I was a kid....I think they think the internet has been here since the early 1900s....lol.

      Voted up and awesome.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I can identify with some of this background. My brother was ten years older than me and was interested in electronics which he studied in the Navy, probably a bit later than the setting here. My cousins of that were also wrapped up in radio and other electrical gadgets. Brings back my childhood memories. Up and awesome. tweeted.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi, Jackie!

      I was fascinated with radio, and I guess I still am.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you Bruce! (It is Bruce, right?)

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Hi Don!

      I built several crystal sets, including one in Cub Scouts!

    • SubRon7 profile image

      James W. Nelson 5 years ago from eastern North Dakota

      Great story, Will, looking forward to next installment! And, hurry, BTW.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thanks James! After the SCOTUS decision this morning, I took a slight detour (To Your Health), but part two of this story is almost complete.

    • Ken S Harris profile image

      Ken S Harris 5 years ago from Richmond, KY

      One of the reasons I joined Hubpages was to read good fiction... like this story! I am really looking forward to future installments!

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 5 years ago from Tennesee

      Very interesting so far. Gosh Will, your creative Muse is in full force this week!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thanks, Ken and welcome to Will Starr world. You write a good story yourself!

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 5 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Great story...chills all over me...on to the next part...:O) God Bless Hugs G-Ma

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, G-ma!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      I'm driven to delve into this delightful story-- moving on! You demonstrate such a diversity of subjects. Voted UP & ABI.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      femmeflashpoint 5 years ago

      Will,

      This my first time to learn of a crystal radio. Very cool, and no need for electricity!

      I'm off to read Part II, and I admit, I'm dreading it.

      I have to warn you, if you've killed off Danny's dad, I'm gonna be mad at you for a whole day. Maybe two.

      ;)

      femme

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Wouldn't want you made at me, sweetie!

      Read on.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      What a great story and a cliff hanger in just a few paragraphs. Making a radio out of a kit, wow, I had forgotten that was part of the Boy Scout program. My Dad bought my brother one and I watched him wind the coil and eventually we got a signal. It was really exciting. Dad tried to teach us Morse code too. Mostly SOS. He was a sonarman and taught at the Fleet Sonar School in Key West way back.

      This brought back so many memories of when he was stationed on an ammunition carrier and was gone for 18 months in the Med. My older brother and older sister both thought they were the boss of me.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you Peg!

    • Anju Arya profile image

      Anju Arya 5 years ago from India

      a good job Willstarr, Voted up.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Anju Arya!

      There are two more parts.

    • profile image

      Sueswan 5 years ago

      Hi Will

      You are the master storyteller. I was hanging on every word. What a cliff hanger! I just have to find out what happens next.

      Voted up and away!

      Have a good day. :)

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Sueswan!

    • Curiad profile image

      Mark G Weller 5 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

      This is a very well written story that leaves the reader waiting for more. I will look for #2 Will!

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Curiad, and welcome to Will Starr world!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Nice! My interest is piqued...off to #2.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Sunshine!

    • profile image

      whowas 5 years ago

      Beautiful and intriguing start to this story and I love the detail on the old crystal radio. I still remember my father explaining to me with the excitement of relived childhood twinkling in his eyes, of the first crystal set that he had made - also during the war - and hoping to intercept messages from the Nazis and become a war hero!

      This is one to follow through. Off to find part two...

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, whowas!

      Today, we accept worldwide communications as commonplace, but in those days, it was anything but reliable, very mysterious, and thrilling when it worked.

    • misc-disc profile image

      misc-disc 4 years ago from Greater Earth Area

      Good story. Excellent point for a cliffhanger. Good use of literary devices.

    • WillStarr profile image
      Author

      WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, misc-disc!

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 2 years ago from Cape Cod

      As a World War Two baby, I sure can relate to this excellent narrative. Top shelf Will. Very top.

    • WillStarr profile image
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      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thank you, Bill!

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