My Father never wanted to talk about the war--World War II--and as he died when I was seventeen, I never had the opportunity to bring it up to him as an adult, man to man. At seventeen, memories of war were not on my radar. I was too busy trying to figure out how to stay out of Vietnam. I did not want any war memories of my own. But I would have gone if drafted.
I have pictures from Dad's Army days. He was a cook on or near the front lines during The Battle of the Bulge and was presented two Purple Hearts. I do not know any details.
Dad's favorite TV show when I was little was the TV comedy "Sergeant Bilko." It was his favorite because during his youth when he was in the Army he was quite the rounder, like Sarge. Quick-witted, likable, good at poker, pool and no doubt dice, along with the drinking skills that usually went with such endeavors, he could procure things hard to find during the war. He had that knack. And he always was able to "procure" all I needed growing up, and more.
There are bits and pieces of information I have about his time in the service. Most are snippets that I don't really remember how I know. I just know them, maybe from when the relatives used to get together and late at night reminisce about their youth. I would be semi-asleep on the floor, while the stories would flow into my brain for later understanding.
There is the story about him going AWOL because he wanted to see his younger brother, James. Dad was in Europe somewhere and James was in a tank in Africa. He made it there and back after a brief visit. And there's the one about Dad sending $300 home to Durham's mayor with the request that he "procure" gifts for my Mother's birthday. He was anxious for her to have silk stockings and French perfume, a big cake, along with extra gas and sugar rations for her family. That made the local newspaper, of course. I still have the clipping with the photo of my Mother holding the stockings and perfume.Just snippets. He kept getting busted down to buck private for his many small transgressions against authority. Via his gambling, he always had money to lend to his fellow soldiers, with usury, I'd guess. His Captain got him out of the brig one time because the Captain needed a loan. Later, his records were "lost" by that same Captain.
But as was the case with the fictional Bilko, and as so well put by the Museum of Broadcast Communications web site about the character, my Father, too, was a good man with a heart of gold. I can surely attest to that. And there were the soft mutterings about the jeep wreck. I never knew my Father to drive, either by choice or because of verdict. I have never known which. I do know that my Father would have be en the type of man to inflict his own personal penalty on himself. Somebody got killed and Dad was driving the jeep--that much is clear. Whether it was his fault or not remains unknown. It cannot matter now; I am content not to know.
He served till the end of the war and received an Honorable Discharge. That, too, I know. I discount the lost records.
I think of my Father most--now forty-some years after his death--on Memorial Day. I am not sure why. He did not die in service to his country. Perhaps I think of him today because I would like to have known him in his youth--and more about him generally, so I could appreciate him even more than I do.
Like so many soldiers, his youth was scarred by war. And for him and most WWII Veterans, by a Great Depression. All that he was the years I knew him was a product of that war he fought. I remember him as quiet, reserved and as someone who kept his cards close to his vest. I don't think his scars (even though I confess to not knowing what the scars entail) ever healed, nor have the physical and psychological scars of so many who have served our country.
From our nation's revolutionary formation through our country's current campaigns, our youth has constantly been steeled by war. By sacrifice. By accepting the call of duty. Even the rounders. I pray this country remains worthy of that sacrifice.
The gratitude the rest of us owe is virtually unspeakable.
'I have never been able to think of the day as one of mourning; I have never quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on Decoration Day. I have rather felt that the flag should be at the peak, because those whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed it. We honor them in a joyous, thankful, triumphant commemoration of what they did. '