"The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, ideas, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy. A thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own for the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is, is that these things can not be confined to the Twilight Zone."
Science fiction aficionados and casual couch surfers alike remember the other-worldly, high-pitched chords and surreal imagery that introduced each episode of "The Twilight Zone."
Each episode was prefaced by Rod Serling, who would step into the foreground and expound the human condition and the strangeness of his fabricated world. Before hosting the famed television show and his script-writing career even began, Serling spent three years in the U.S. Army in the 11th Airborne Division.
Serling was born in Syracuse, New York, to a Jewish family. He was extremely talkative as a child and continued for extended periods of time without pausing for others. He was so oblivious when speaking that he went on for two hours nonstop during a car ride and didn't notice that none of his family members contributed.
During his senior year of high school, he became interested in World War II and tried to inspire fellow students to join. Despite his civics teacher's attempts to dissuade him, he enlisted after graduation.
Training took place at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, for the 511th Parachute Infantry of the 11th Airborne Division. During his time training, he took up boxing as a hobby and competed in 17 bouts. He lost in the second round of division finals and later attempted the Golden Gloves, to no avail. In 1944, his unit was ordered to head to the Pacific Theatre aboard the USS Sea Pike.
In November 1944, the 11th Airborne Division first saw combat on the island of Leyte in the Philippines. It did not deploy with parachutes, however, and served as light infantry. Despite his reputation of hotheadedness and passion for serving the U.S., Serling was transferred to the 511th's demolition platoon.
The leader of his new squad said Serling "didn't have the wits or aggressiveness required for combat." It was in Leyte that he witnessed a fellow soldier die from a freak accident, an incident that informed much of his writing.
Despite receiving two wounds on the island, Serling was still ready for combat and deployed with his platoon to Tagaytay Ridge in 1945 and marched on Manilla. Japanese forces defended the city with 17,000 troops and laid numerous traps. It took roughly one month to take control of the city.
When a city block was peaceful enough and devoid of Japanese forces, locals celebrated with the Allies. Serling's unit was enjoying such hospitality one night when Japanese artillery rained down on them. He ran into the shellfire to rescue a performer, earning the notice of his sergeant.
When he was discharged in 1946, Serling had earned the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Philippine Liberation Medal. The experience of war followed him home, and he experienced nightmares and flashbacks for the rest of his life.
"I was bitter about everything and at loose ends when I got out of the service," Serling said. "I turned to writing to get it off my chest."
When Serling returned to civilian life, he used his GI benefits for medical services as well as a college education. With his bachelor of arts degree in literature, Serling started his career and went on to become a voice of altruism and philosophy that resonates with us today.
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