THE HOME FRONT
for Subs on the Detroit River
Issue # 19: November 2001
on the seawall in the dark, a boy watched the Detroit lights
dance across the tops of the murky waves that came alive
as they approached the spiles of the railroad docks. The
river announced its arrival with rhythmic lapping sounds
as the water ended its mile and a half long journey to Canada.
was the boys favourite place to be in the entire world.
was a fine year for a ten-year-old boy. And it was a good
time to ponder things like life and battle and triumph.
It was surely a time for patriotic imagination.
war, now in its fourth year, stirred manly thoughts and
feelings as he looked out over the mystery of the darkened
water. He wondered if enemy submarines lurked out there,
perhaps to deposit foreign raiders or saboteurs on the Canadian
shore. He thought it very unlikely, especially since this
was the exact place that the Queen of England stood on her
yacht and waved to crowds just a few years before. For assurance,
he looked over his shoulder at the marquee of the Coronation
Hotel, named in her honour.
boy decided to watch for enemy activity anyway. At night
the subs were known to surface. So far, none had been reported.
the day, the boy warily scoured the white-cropped wave tops
searching for oil slicks and periscopes. After all, this
river would someday carry home all our heroes from the battlefields.
There would be welcoming fireboats spraying the bows of
the returning hospital ships and city bands would play,
probably right where he stood. He read of such things in
the war reports.
the theatre newsreels, he saw huge boats sailing under the
Golden Gate Bridge. And the boy remembered seeing a troopship
entering the harbour in New York, passing right under the
arm of the Statue of Liberty.
he looked to the west, he imagined that the Ambassador Bridge
would serve just as well as the Golden Gate and what better
Statue of Liberty than the huge Penobscot Building, probably
the tallest skyscraper in the world except, he guessed,
the Empire State Building. For many years, he had watched
the red blinking ball at the top of the Penobscot from his
bedroom until he fell asleep. It was a symbol of safety
to him during his very young life, just as the Statue of
Liberty is the beacon for others in the world.
this day, he watched the steamers Ste. Claire and Columbia
leave their moorings, with a full load of passengers headed
for Bob-Lo Island. He imagined them as massive troopships
on the way to the battlefields, with troops hanging over
the rails waving goodbye to families.
a couple of hours, the boats would return and pass under
the Ambassador Bridge with a new load of passengers, this
time undoubtedly carrying the wounded heroes. As the Ste.
Claire reappeared under his Golden Gate, he silently cheered
and stood erect as if at attention, with his hand on his
breast. And when the Columbia followed shortly afterward,
he was sure he saw decorated veterans, probably from France
from behind him came the sound of a train as it chugged
through the underpass at Wellington Street and made the
turn westward along the riverfront. Although the locomotive
bore the Canadian National Railway letters on its boiler,
it was a certainty that the train was actually carrying
fresh troops to relieve those soldiers returning on the
war, the government couldnt be too careful, he reckoned.
the train slowly passed, the boy suddenly heard the sound
of an engine and turned back to the river just in time to
see a small boat racing to intercept an up-bound freighter.
When the smaller ship pulled up to the starboard side of
the vessel, he could plainly see the markings.
interceptor was named the J.W. Wescott and it looked like
it was throwing mailbags onto the deck of the larger boat.
He thought that it was very clever to camouflage a P.T.
boat as a mail carrier but in war, as with troop trains,
you must be very careful.
the small boat finished its investigation, it backed off
the side of the freighter, which resembled a Canada Steamship
Lines ore carrier, and raced back to shore where it laid
in waiting for the next ship.
under the Ambassador Bridge came the low rumblings of two
more boats, and the boy recognized them immediately. They
had come to haul the troop train boxcars across the river,
where they would join the Americans for another allied attack,
probably in Berlin or Munich or Tunisia. The flat black
boats named the Manitowoc and the Pere Marquette loaded
up and returned to their ports, awaiting further orders.
the boy watched the waters of the river, the twinkling lights
of the Detroit skyline started to come alive, and he glanced
up at the Penobscot building turret to make sure that the
red ball had resumed its watchful blinking. Behind him,
he heard the hissing of the steam-engine locomotive waiting
for a new load of troops.
then looked westward, and satisfied that the Ambassador
Bridge lights were working, he turned from his boats and
his trains and his river and slowly walked up the street
to his home, glancing back once or twice, just to make sure.
this day in 1943, all was well in the Border Cities. The
boy felt good about himself.
Paré was born at the corner of Windsor and Wyandotte, where
his grandfather operated a blind pig and bootlegging business.
Tom writes “flash fiction” stories, dealing with his boyhood
in Windsor along the riverfront. This remembrance is of
his “importance to the war effort” in Windsor in the ’40s.
Tom attended Assumption and Patterson high schools and resides
in Traverse City, Michigan.