Ta-ra-ra-boom-dee-ay by
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Retrospect writers have expressed all our collective experiences with the Vietnam war so well. Yesterday and today I couldn’t help thinking of the 100-year anniversary of World War I and my father’s father’s role in it. How amazing that it could have been 100 years ago!

It seemed like so much fun to me. The real story was much more sobering but also inspiring ...

A child’s-eye view

The main thing I remember about my grandfather Max’s role in the Great War was the songs he sang. I was five or six years old and he bounced me on his knee and sang “Ta-ra-ra-boom-dee-ay,” “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” and “Oh they don’t wear pants in the southern part of France.” Later I learned that these were songs from the World War I period. It seemed like so much fun to me. The real story was much more sobering but also inspiring, I found out, when I was a young adult and my father related what he knew about how his father spent the war.

My grandfather Max was born in New York in 1896, the second of eight children. His parents had made a harrowing journey to America from Romania but managed to find stability that was better than average for Jewish immigrants at that time. Max graduated from high school and then did what was called a stenography course (most likely typing and shorthand) to become an executive secretary (a man’s job then). When the U.S. became involved in the war he would have been 20 or 21 years old.

A mysterious truth

From here the story becomes vague, but it seems as if he was drafted. My father said Max stated his beliefs as a conscientious objector and refused to take on a position that involved carrying a weapon. However, he volunteered to serve in another capacity, one that was terribly dangerous–a medic in the trenches in France. He must have spent about a year “over there.” I can only imagine what he witnessed and experienced.

One thing we do know is that, when I was about eight, my grandmother became ill with a puzzling ailment. The doctors were stumped, but after a while, Max figured it out. She had a tapeworm, showing the exact same symptoms as the soldiers in the trenches. The doctors agreed, my grandmother was treated, and she recovered.

I wish I knew more details about this story, but it shows how complicated war is, and that there are so many ways to be brave.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I think it quite appropriate to think about WWI, given 100 years since its end was just celebrated. Thank you for sharing your grandfather’s stories, Marian. I remember “Ta-ra-ra-boom-dee-ay”. I never knew the song was from that era. Fascinating that Max was able to diagnose your grandmother’s tapeworm, based on his work as a medic in the trenches! How different medical treatment was almost 100 years ago!

  2. John Zussman says:

    Your title alone took me back, as my mother used to sing “Ta-ra-ra-boom-dee-ay” with us when we were little and we would squeal with glee as she landed on the “boom!” Your grandfather is a true hero in my book. It’s a shame that you’ve lost the full story of his service, as I have with mine, but as you say, what we know is quite enough to spark our imagination. Maybe that’s almost as good.

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