I attended grade school in the 1960s. The day my teacher taught us about WWII I freaked out. The notion of the world being at war shook the foundation of my secure little life.
I had known that Dad was in the Army, but other than that, little was said of his service. My father was a truly gentle man, and the thought of him being involved in warfare was incomprehensible.
When I went home and asked Mom about my father's service, she took me aside and explained. "We don't talk about the war or Daddy's service." And so I never asked, and it was never discussed in our home.
It wasn't until I got married that I learned my father was an Army Ranger. That information was passed to me from my father-in-law. His WWII experience was practically pleasant. He was a medic, and his unit was always one day ahead of disaster. Any time my F-I-L meets another vet he asks about his service.
My F-I-L explained that as a Ranger, my dad was a true hero. But my father lived with his military service tucked away into a distant compartment in his mind. Stories were never shared, photos were never shown. He may have been a hero, but he didn't want to be. He didn't want the world to descend into the chaos of the 1940s, but when the time came, he enlisted to serve his country.
In our home, no one asked about Dad's Army years, and he never offered any information -- not until a cold, gray morning in December of 1996. I was staying with my parents, caring for my mother as she died. One morning as I sat at the breakfast table sipping coffee, my father trudged in and sat. His eyes held pain, but it wasn't just at the imminent passing of his wife.
Dad started having nightmares about his WWII service the week my mother died. He told me he was one of the few survivors of a battle on Anzio Beach in Italy. The next day when the battle had subsided and smoke had cleared, my father walked the beach leading donkeys. He spend I-don't-know-how-long putting the bodies of dead soldiers on the donkeys and bringing them to an area so the bodies could be shipped home to the states.
We sat together and cried at the horror he lived through. "All my friends were killed." He told me. Yet my father, that truly gentle soul, persevered and did his duty. He was a hero, even though he didn't want to be.
When I think of Veteran's Day and all those who served our country, my Dad is first in my thoughts. He's one of the finest men I've ever known. I'm grateful for his service to our country and for the gentle, loving way he raised me.
God bless America, and God bless the men and women of the armed services who guard our freedom.
The photo I chose to post of Dad is one of my favorites. He's snuggling with my daughter. This photo captures his sweet spirit.