One of the neatest gifts I received as a pre-kindergartener was a pair of camouflaged pajamas. Bear in mind, that was near half a century ago, long before you could find camo at most any store. You see, back in the 1960s, camo was the privilege of actual soldiers and duck hunters. So, imagine the delight a five-year-old felt when he opened a present from his godmother to discover a matching top and bottom—in what I would recognize years later as “WWII Jungle pattern” camouflage.
Five-Year-Old Looking for Concealment
I don’t know how it came to be that a 5-year-old felt that a pair of pajamas completed his kit, but these did for me! The shirt had olive drab plastic buttons down the front with a “US ARMY” tape over one of the patch pockets. The open collar laid down nicely to create a sharp, but casual, combatant look. As I recall, the pants just had an elastic waistband, making it a little difficult to consider them as the sole covering for my lower torso.
When not employed in night defense under the covers, these flannel “PJs” became the equivalent of a pullover camo suit for daytime combat. Having served nearly 24/7, it is little wonder that not a thread of these remain—except in my memory.
Honestly, I don’t remember too much about the pajamas. I don’t remember modeling them for my godmother. I don’t remember having to give them up to the laundry department (staffed by my grandmother, mother, and sister). I don’t even remember my big brothers pestering me about them (though I know the PJs did not meet the same fate as my blanket at the hands of my brother Joe, who tossed that good companion into our incinerator). No, I don’t really remember too much about the camo pajamas — except for one summer day.
That particular day, I remember as if it were yesterday. I had grown tired of defending our porch from the attack of imaginary Germans. My attempt to dig a foxhole in the garden had been met with serious repercussions from Dad (the soil where the tulips grew was much easier to dig than anywhere else. Apparently, he didn’t appreciate that the defense of the backyard was as important as those flowers). And the front yard was just too exposed to the corner traffic. To continue to fight my imaginary wars, I needed to find different terrain.
Outwardly, our backyard presented some interesting possibilities. It was sort of L-shaped, beginning on the side of the house and wrapping around behind the house. It was bordered by a city street, across which stood the County Court House—a veritable stone fortress built in 1885.
Each day, around 11:30, workers would stream out of the two-story building for lunch. And each day, Mrs. Zimmerman would cut through our yard, taking a short-cut to her home.
She didn’t know it, but she had become a Japanese soldier in my imagination. On that summer day, around 11 a.m. I pulled the camo suit on over my blue jeans and striped T-shirt. I had little brown lace-up ankle shoes that I thought looked just like “army boots.” I pushed those through the camo legs as I hopped the waistband into place. Next was the camo shirt followed by my Dad’s M1936 Musette Bag that I wore like a knapsack (my blanket safe inside giving it shape). I passed his web pistol belt through the shoulder straps so when I fastened it around my waist, it would not slip down over my legs. Nearing the end of my preparation, I placed a plastic M1 “steel” pot on my head, resplendent with plastic foliage and black elastic chinstrap. Dressed and ready, I picked up my plastic M1903 rifle (complete with three ejectable bullets and a plastic shoulder strap). It was time to deploy my “ambush.”
There was no concealment readily available between the courthouse and our house. So, surveying the backyard, I decided my best place to hide was among my brothers' bicycles standing between the house and the garden. I laid down, propped my rifle on the large stone on the cistern cover, and waited.
I honestly don’t remember the wait, but I do remember being startled by Mrs. Zimmerman's single, shrill scream. Apparently, a five-year-old is not that well-suited to lay in an ambush. I had fallen asleep in the 15 or 20 minutes while I waited for the “enemy” to approach. When she finally did, she had stumbled on the drain pipe across the little sidewalk extending from the side of our house. The sound of clanking tin woke me with a start, which in turn, scared the bajeezus out of Mrs. Zimmerman.
When I heard her scream, I …unlike the Marines I had seen in the “Sands of Iwo Jima”…began to cry. Mrs. Zimmerman knelt down to give me a hug and apologized for scaring me. I couldn’t let on that, just moments before, I had been lying in the brush plotting her demise as an enemy combatant.
When my sobbing subsided, Mrs. Zimmerman stood up and told me it was “all right.” As she turned to resume her daily march across our yard, she did call back, however, “I never even saw you!”
I was satisfied. My camo pajamas had concealed me from the enemy.
No longer upset from the brief skirmish, I looked across our garden at the neighbor’s yard. There, I spotted two of their cats lounging in the backyard. But to my five-year-old eyes, they looked like a Nazi patrol that had to be dealt with…
Preserve the Memories,
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine