About 10 years ago, I was helping friends downsize; they were moving out of a house filled with decades of memories and my job was to fill my car with stuff to be donated and cart it over to the St. James’ Thrift Shop. In the course of emptying closets and sorting, the man of the house came over to me and held up his dog-tags. I knew he had served in World War II, as a Marine, and had seen combat on Guadalcanal in the South Pacific.
“Do you know why these are taped together?” he said.
“So they wouldn’t make noise,” I replied.
“That’s right,” he said. And he told me he’d been a Forward Artillery Observer. From my reading (but certainly not from my own experience), I knew this was a formal title for someone who crawled as close to enemy lines as possible, watched when the artillery opened up, and then radioed back directions and yardage to the artillery men to help them zero in on the target.
“You had to get pretty close to their lines,” I said.
“Oh, I could hear them talking.”
“That must have been pretty scary.”
“Yes, it was.” He paused, and then his eyes kind of lit up, and he added, “but when those rounds came in, it was pretty darned exciting.”