Letters to a Lost Soldier: Souvenir German medals and nosey neighbors

Dear Daddy,
(I originally wrote in June, 1945) The collection of German medals you brought home bothers me. I was afraid to touch the medals because I thought they were picked off of dead bodies. “Not necessarily,” you said. “They might have come from soldiers who surrendered.” “Don’t you know?” I asked. “I traded them for cigarettes.” I stopped bothering you with questions when you didn’t want to talk anymore.
The medals are made of metal and look very substantial, but when I gingerly picked one up, it was light. I turned it over and saw it was hollow, yet it had looked solid when hanging from a ribbon. Very lightweight, like a piece of junk. So German soldiers fight for pieces of junk with ribbons, I thought. You have ribbons on your uniform and I asked what they meant. “Military service in the European Theatre, the Rhineland, Northern France and the Good Conduct Medal.”
I know how hard it is to have good conduct because I restrain myself in school to get an “E” for excellence in good conduct on my report card. It isn’t easy to get along with others and not fight back when I am kidded for being left-handed. I’m proud of you, Daddy, for getting through the war and captivity and earning the Good Conduct Medal. Even though it is only a ribbon, it is much prettier than the German medals in the box. I didn’t want to play with the medals.
You suggested I visit my friend, Roberta, and show them to her family. I listened to you and ran over to Roberta’s house. “My Daddy is home,” I told them. They were happy to hear the good news. I showed them the box of German medals. They cringed. “Those are worthless,” said Roberta’s father. “I know,” I replied. “They are pieces of junk.”
“How is your father doing?” he asked. I told him about all the relatives and friends visiting, bringing delicious foods to eat, patting you on the back, shaking your hand and making a big fuss of gladness that you are home from the war. “What about your uncles,” he also asked. “Are any of them in the service?”
I told him that Uncle Eddie served in World War I and is active in the American Legion. He was Illinois Commander and took us to “I Am an American Day” at Soldier’s Field in May, sponsored by his organization. We sang, “I Am an American from the Great United States.” Ex-Prisoners of War who have just returned to the USA were introduced and there was a huge display of fireworks. I’m sorry you missed that show, Daddy, but there will be more celebrations on Flag Day and the Fourth of July. I said that Uncle Lester, who is forty-one, was too old to be drafted, and Uncle Bob works in a defense plant.
“How about your uncle on Whipple Street?” he asked. I said I thought he worked in a defense plant. He saw your brother-in-law driving a Fox Deluxe beer truck. He’s right. I’ve also watched him parking a big truck in the alley by his house. Maybe he has two jobs. “Well, he’s not my real uncle,” I told him. “He’s married to Mommy’s sister, and my real uncles are Daddy’s three brothers.” Aunt Miriam’s husband is the only relative who has not visited you, Daddy, though she has been here by herself to welcome you home. Roberta’s mother thought he might be 4-F like her husband, who disagreed. He said he likes to know everyone in the neighborhood because he is precinct captain. “I’m going to walk over to Whipple Street and say hello.”
Roberta’s father is very nosey. I’m sorry I went there and answered his questions. I hope he doesn’t come here and bother you. I’m happy you’re home, Daddy, if only for a short time. I know you’re still in the Army and have to report to the base when your furlough is over. Until then, let’s keep celebrating and having fun like we did at Navy Pier.