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1923 nickel and birth-year

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One of the many occasions—great and small—that coins get linked with are birth-years. I got to thinking about Buffalo nickels and birth-years while I was thinking about the “nickel-squeezer” and his son, the WWII infantryman. ( ) That, and something I’d read, got me to thinking about 1923 nickels like this one…




American nickels were kid’s coins through and through, and 1923 nickels like this one worked hard during the ‘20s and ‘30s helping to entertain the kids born that particular year.


But 1923 was an unlucky birth-year for a lot of young men—not only for Americans, but around the world. Buffalo nickels, though, were the coins that American boys were spending when Pearl Harbor was attacked in December, 1941. By New Year’s Day, 1942, the American boys born in 1923 were all 18-year-olds.


It’s a great age, 18. Well, usually. But in wartime? For folks caught up in the shitty arithmetic of total war, 18 can be pretty tough.


Author Phil Nordyke wrote a 2006 book about the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne called The All Americans in World War II. Something he wrote really stuck in my mind. Right after the close of the war in Europe, in the Spring of 1945, while the troops were still in place, and still unsure whether they would be going to the Pacific to fight more, came this, from an interview—


 “Staff sergeant Ross Carter, with Company C, 504th [Parachute Infantry], was one of the very lucky men who served in a rifle company in the 82nd Airborne Division from North Africa to Germany. ‘My friends call me a refugee from the law of averages. My regiment still exists as a name, but the regiment in which I trained, fought, and almost died, now lies buried in obscure army cemeteries in ten countries.’”


The boys born in 1923? The 18-year-olds of 1942? For too many of them, by 1945 it was something like “Now…buried in obscure army cemeteries in ten countries.”


The lucky ones got home, and probably had reason to put a nickel into a payphone to call ahead to their wives, or their folks, or maybe to phone a taxi from the airport, dock, or train station….




But the unlucky ones? The paratroopers of the 82nd who lay “buried in obscure army cemeteries in ten countries,” what had been in their pockets? What coins of theirs went to Kansas City?


(During WWII Kansas City, Missouri, was the collection point for the personal effects of the American soldiers, sailors and airmen who were killed or missing. Into the middle of the country would come the train-cars, in from the coasts, in from the war in the Pacific, in from the war in Europe.)


The ten countries spoken of by Staff-sergeant Ross Carter of Charlie Company? The possibilities, I think, are these: the U.S., Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy (Sicily), Italy (mainland), U.K., France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany.


So here’s one candidate for the trip through Kansa City, and then home to a family with a Gold Star in their window. An aluminum-bronze 5-franc piece coined in Paris in 1939 for use in Algeria, found in the U.S. and hardly touched. But touched, nevertheless.





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I saw and Germanand US  war cemeteries in Luxemburg (where Patton decided to be buried) and Russian ones in Germany. Reading dates and places of birth was really sad. Young boys dead thousand miles far from home and their families.



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