Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Taps

"A man must know his destiny… if he does not recognize it, then he is lost. By this I mean, once, twice, or at the very most, three times, fate will reach out and tap a man on the shoulder… if he has the imagination, he will turn around and fate will point out to him what fork in the road he should take, if he has the guts, he will take it." George Patton

It is Memorial Day.

It is also eleven days from the 64th anniversary of D-Day of which I am reading about in Jeff Shaara's "The Steel Wave".

When I was born, the twentieth marking of that day had not yet even come. It has now been what seems like so long ago. But with any war, it is never long enough for us to forget. Not long enough to forget the sacrifices of the men and women in that World War or the Great War or the Civil War or the American Revolutionary War or the many other wars in which lives were lost in the cause of freedom, freedom for ourselves or for others.

Days such as this one, Independence Day or Veteran's Day have such meaning for me, affecting me deeply. Not just because I am passionate about my country's birth or it's preservation but because one of this country's heroes lives with me: my dad.

My daddy, now 82, is a World War II veteran. He was with the 78th Lightning Division, 309th Infantry, "E" (Easy) Company fighting in Germany and Belgium, the Huertgen Forest, Battle of the Bulge, the Bridge at Remagen. He was 18 years old. After slogging it out for two years in the trenches, suffering through cold, enduring days on end of fear and pain, he came home with a purple heart and a bronze star. Not the same man who left two years before but a man still, a changed man. A man proud of the service he gave his country and for which he still pays a price today.

Until 1986, after a serious incident with his health which was a result of treatment for his war injury, my dad did not like to speak about the war. As children, my siblings and I would play with the remnants of his uniform and the medals which were kept in the garage along with his military photo. The times represented by those mementos were never referred to until 40 years later. Then, it was as if a dam burst, creating a need to talk about what happened during his military service and he has since shared with us as his family, and school children where we live, the reality of war. The good, the bad and the ugly.

The stories of his experiences are varied. There are stories of bars and fights (of the drunken kind) in England, English families adopting the soldiers, stories of being scared spitless and of bravery, of ordinary people in war-torn countries who did not believe in what their evil leaders were doing, of German children not knowing the difference between their neighbors and the enemy and seeing them as they were . . . just people to love and admire no matter the uniform, of U.S. soldiers having hearts of gold and reaching out to those same children to make their day a little more sunny when their home was being blown to bits. He knows of looking into the eyes of his enemy who was just doing his duty, knowing he had someone somewhere that he was special to, yet my daddy knowing he had to do his duty, too. He remembers seeing the mask of death worn on the faces of soldiers on both sides. His stories are of how his heart broke knowing that there were innocent people, children, killed in the shelling, shelling not only by the Allies but by their own German army. His stories are of some lighthearted moments with both his fellow enlisted soldiers and officers. Ask him about his tailoring and barbering skills :) Of soldiers who were good and bad, on BOTH sides.

And his stories are of having seen his buddies blown to pieces as they stood beside him, knowing it could have been him, and of treating those that were injured with either medical care and/or comfort as they lay dying or waiting for a medic.

It is about those people, we think today. The ones who didn't make it back. But for the grace of God, my father might not have made it back and he has never, not once, forgotten that. And so today he, too, is remembering his friends who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Unfortunately, the loss did not end there and it never will, as long as there are people left to disagree on the face of this earth. But also, never will the remembering end. No matter the war, no matter the place . . . we will remember . . . and we will be grateful.

Today, Daddy, I am thankful for what you have done for your country and am relieved that today I honor you and need not lay a wreath upon the soil underneath which you lay. But when that time does come . . . I will remember. Proudly.


Anna Flowergardengirl said...

Wonderful! It's a similar story that my father told too. He lost a brother in the war. I appreciate your dad and please tell him so.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much; eloquently said. My dad is 86 and was also in Easy Company, 309th Infantry, 78th Division - same as your dad AND he fought at the same venue's. The 'dam' has not yet burst for him; he cries each time he tries to share his experiences and can't go on. The memory is simply more than he can bare but that's ok; perhaps one day, perhaps not. No matter, he and other's like him are my hero's. They are the example of the kind of person I strive to be. Blessings to you and your dad. Cindy in Michigan