A novel about the second World War made me think of Mario’s War. Not that he ever told me much about it, but for some reason (that book perhaps), I feel the need to relay what little he told me.
I worked with Mario in the proof room back when I thought I might become a journalist. While we waited for copy, we would trade stories. Which is how I discovered that when Mario was 17 years old, he was drafted to fight in the Second World War. He reported for duty in September. At this point he would pause and smile mischievously. You see, the military decided that Mario was Maria and put him with the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.
When he first realized what had happened, Mario was as excited as any teenager who thought he was about to be surrounded by lovely, unattached women 24/7 would be. Alas, his dreams of “dating” many lovely ladies (Mario’s words) were soon dashed. Mario was segregated from the women, kept in the barracks under guard and even ate his meals alone and (of course) under guard. The army may not have been able to tell a Mario from a Maria, but they knew a thing or two about teenagers. This went on for several weeks but in the end, the army changed whatever paperwork they needed to change, Mario “became” male once more, and shipped out.
He never told me where they shipped him off to; never mentioned where he fought. Of the fighting itself, he told me nothing. But he did tell me one other story of those days. The story of the last night of his war.
He and a friend went out on the town, had a bit too much to drink and staggered back to base a bit worse for wear. Apparently, coming back after dark meant breaking curfew and, on the way, they met some man (Mario always swore he could not see who it was) who demanded to know why the two of them were out so late. Mario explained and, in the process, made some rather unkind remarks about his commanding officer. In the morning it transpired that the commanding officer was the man who had questioned Mario and his friend, and he apparently did not take kindly to whatever it was Mario said about him. He demoted Mario back to private. And then Mario went home. At this point, Mario would smile his wide smile—a smile that lit up his entire face—and shrug. (I don’t think the demotion mattered to him that much.) And then it would be my turn to tell a story.
Mario only told me those two stories about his war. But they were enough.