The Knapsack
By Ray Crucet

Mother's Day takes me back to WW II and conjures up a few childhood memories involving Air Raids, Bomb Shelters, and…"the knapsack".

WWII bomb shelters were hastily thrown up all over my hometown of Pedro Miguel. The heavy duty ones constructed with sand filled 50-gallon drums staggered in walls four to five deep were located in the jungle some distance out of town, away from the all-important Panama Canal Locks targeted by the Japanese. Most shelters however, were sand bag affairs such as that applied to the 1st floor of the Union Church, which also served as an USO. My Mother entertained the GI's there, on occasion, with piano concerts. One most memorable event was the impromptu concert she put on for a town in mourning the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. Istill remember her fingers, wet with tears, flying over the keyboard. Her music lifting spirits…

But I digress...back to the "Air Raids". There were many practice air raids and we (most of the town) had to participate in a forced march a few miles out into the "bush" to reach our shelters. What with sirens screaming, search lights, barrage balloons, and smoke screens all put into play in the middle of the night, it was an exciting time for a kid. Unfortunately my mother had made me a knapsack...

It was contrived of a heavy blue-red corduroy type feminine patterned material from some cast-off skirt. You know, I took great exception to having that alien thing on my back, but to no avail. You see Mother's family in Spain had experienced a nasty Civil War, which was in fact a rehearsal sponsored by the "Master Race" for WWII. Consequently, she was inclined to insist I carry "just in case" items such as water, food, extra socks and yes, clean underwear.

She even attached an eraser to it with string. Can you imagine? An eraser dangling from a piece of string. The idea being to clench it between my teeth during bombings...presumably to protect them from shock. What an embarrassment to wear that Knapsack thing with the eraser and string and all.

It got lost eventually...somehow.

Mother passed away in 1946, shortly after the war. She's buried in Panama at the Corozal American cemetery near a small lovely chapel. One day, soon, at least in the not too distant future, I'll visit that beautiful tropical place again and apologize for losing that Knapsack, and I'll thank her for always keeping me and the family safe, and maybe…maybe I'll just...leave a string tied to an eraser on her headstone.

A note:

I received an E-mail response on  5/13/01 from a friend of a friend whom I had sent this story to a few days ago. She added an interesting element to the story.

Dear Ray C,

Thank God that you (or the rest of us Zonians) didn't actually need that backpack that your Mother put together for you so many years ago. She was indeed very foresighted to have done that. Except for a small circumstance of war the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks would have been bombed. I heard that in a recently unclassified Japanese document in the U.S. Archives it was discovered that the Japanese had already completed a number of mini-submarines (with 30-40 more being completed in factories) that were built to contain bomber aircraft with folding wings - I believe they were called Kaitons. In mid-July 1945 a group of them were due to arrive off the coast of Chile surreptitiously discharge their bombers off their decks, fly somewhat inland and NORTH to bomb both sets of Pacific locks. It more than likely would have been successful since the locks were protected from attack from the sea which the U.S. considered a strong possibility. An attack overland from South America probably hadn't been given a consideration. Enemy aircraft carriers couldn't get close enough to launch bombers without being discovered. Talk about stealth - first undersea and then over very lightly populated jungle.

The real luck came when the date of the attack was pushed back until mid-August. And we all know what happened to Japan in the first week of August in 1945.


Background: Pedro Miguel Clubhouse

May 12, 2001