Cartoon by Scott Anthony

Jerry's View: Did WWI hero have air-conditioned belly?

When Big Mike Wasik joined the armed forces in 1917, the Great War was nearly over. That did not stop Uncle Sam from sending Mike to Germany where the Kaiser was already retreating.

Mike may have helped encourage that retreat but at painful personal expense. He was wounded twice. We know he survived those wounds because he was my neighbor when I was a youth in Portland.

I was enamored with the Wasik's copper wash tub. All families got clean in those days using a large tub of some sort with the parents taking the first dip in the coziest, cleanest water. Oldest kids were next, following down the line to the youngest. The water never being changed in the process. Hence the phrase, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water." My mom and dad probably thought that the soap pretty much guaranteed that we'd be clean enough for school at the very least.

We had the standard pauper's galvanized tub about the size of a normal washing machine. Bigger kids than me, plus mom and dad, had to scrunch their legs and toes with their knees touching their chins just to fit inside. I was little enough to almost dog paddle but my little sister Norma was always bugging me to get out before the water turned cold. After eight kids, it was assuredly cool.

Big Mike lived around the corner from us. For the longest time we called him Spike. I guess we just didn't listen well. He wasn't rich but his family did have a rather larger copper tub.

Almost like it was from a beer brewing operation. Two people could easily fit in with some room to spare. I never saw two people in it when I visited but I did see Big Mike hunkered down in there one winter afternoon.

Big Mike was big and probably needed a tub that size. I know what you're thinking. Why was I visiting at bath time? The truth is I was just collecting money for delivering the paper. I was invited in while Mrs. Wasik went to get some coins. They had a small house. The tub was in the mud room where I was standing. He was hard to miss.

Mike was a neighborhood hero. Most of my friends knew he was a WWI soldier with a curious wound. He had been shot in the stomach, above his navel. I don't know what he was shot with but the bullet or shrapnel made it look like it went clean through him.

It was the Great Depression...of our neighborhood. Mike had a hole in his belly that could double as a candy dish except that he had a similar hole in his back. I was just a lad and always wondered if the hole went clean through? (It didn't).

The military doctors must have done a pretty good job of patching him up. He never talked about it but the neighbor kids would push in on their own bellies until they ran out of breath wondering how Big Mike didn't.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.