Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day is known as "Armistice Day" in England, celebrating the end of World War I, but it's kind of a catch-all day here in the U.S. as we honor the men who fought to preserve our way of life. My father was one of them - he served in World War II.

My father spoke very little of his wartime experiences – one story I did hear, either from him or perhaps repeated by my mother, was that he was drafted, but was rejected for being underweight! But when he enlisted sometime later (supposedly on a dare), he was accepted. Was this true? I don’t know, but I’d say probably not – his enlistment is dated as of April 15, 1942, a little over five months after Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the war, and in the space for “Selective Service Data – Registered” there is an ‘x’ in the box for “No.”

He alluded to service in England and Italy, but his discharge papers mention as ‘Battles and Campaigns’ only “Normandy Northern France Ardennes Rhineland” – however, his European service did indeed begin in England – he departed the U.S. on July 1st, 1942 and arrived in England on July 12 (many years later, when he went on a cruise, he commented that his only previous cruise ship experience had been “courtesy of Uncle Sam,’ obviously a reference to the trip to and from Europe on a government ship) – he departed (from England again? the papers don’t say) and arrived back in the U.S. on October 6, 1945. He was discharged on October 13, and married my mother a few weeks after returning home. As I’ve said, my father was one of those who didn’t speak of his wartime experiences, not to his children at least, and this was true of countless men, some of whom never opened up at all about this period in their lives, and others who didn’t until Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, finally gave them ‘permission’ to do so (and thus opened the floodgates for countless WW II memoirs).

Whatever my father saw during those years of service, whatever he did there, he kept to himself, though apparently his experiences manifested themselves in dreams – sometimes in his sleep he’d sigh and mumble indistinctly – “He’s dreaming about the war,” my mother would say. But although he kept a knife and an army pistol as souvenirs (we knew where they were kept, and looked at them in secret, but never took them out of the drawer, never held or touched them) his memories and his dreams were his alone. Would it have made any difference if he’d been able to? I don’t know. My father was a private man, not given to introspection or self-analysis – he did his duty (and in doing so perhaps saw things that people shouldn’t see), neither bragged nor complained about it, and came back home to go on with his life.

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