Dear John Bloedom. Or Blaedon. Or Bladon,
I can’t make out your surname, sorry. Is that an ‘m’ at the end, or a flourish on an ‘n’? I wish I knew. You could have been a bit more careful when you signed and dated the first page of the book I just bought. But I’ll forgive you. I do quite like your writing – my name starts with a ‘j’ too. It’s a horrible letter, I can never get it to look nice, like you did.
I know you were in the army, or the navy, or the airforce because the book (As You Were) was an anthology or American verse and prose for servicemen in WW2. But were you the John Bloedom from Colorado? Or maybe the Blaedon from Ohio? I used this thing called the internet to try to look you up, it’s amazing, you’d love it. You can find out almost anything on it – any information you could possibly want – but we mostly use it for looking at cat videos and being mean to each other.
I wish I knew how old you were, what you looked like. I wish I knew why you went to war. Were you conscripted? Did you choose where you wanted to go, sign-up, brave and bold and bulletproof? Did you fight because you thought there were some things worth fighting for? Or because you could? Did you feel you ought to? Did your mother cry when you shipped out?
Did you lie about your age when you enlisted? Were you barely more than a boy?
Were you scared? God, I would be.
You were probably younger than I am right now. That makes me feel sad.
I used to get quite homesick, when I was your age. Don’t tell anyone, but I still do sometimes, a bit. I wonder if you ever did, too.
Did you carry this book with you through the war? It looks in very good condition. Maybe you took it with you to places you’d only read about before, specks on the map with names like Youks-les-Bains and Messina, Gavutu, Saipan. Did it shiver in your pocket in a foxhole? Come ashore with you on some distant beach?
Or did you have my Grandad’s war: years away from home but never on the front-line. A chance to see the world and meet new people, to swim and dance and drink and one day, come home, as someone new.
Did you keep the book pristine and careful, a reminder of home and a life without khaki and musette bags and artillery? Did it comfort you, when it got hard?
Or perhaps you didn’t read it because it was too difficult. Imagining a world carrying on out there without you -the thought of cars running and people buying and selling and mowing their lawns and waving hello – made you feel like you’d just swallowed a grenade that was going to explode outwards one day.
Did you have a wife? A girlfriend? Children?
I’m sorry you had to do what you had to do.
Do we have anything much in common? Would we have been friends, if you’d been here and now, or I’d been there and then? I’ll never know who you are. You could have been anyone. Perhaps you were no-one in particular.
I’m no-one in particular. But I have your book. I’ll try to take care of it, like you did.