My father died last year at 79. Like many men his age, he was a veteran of WWII. Had I been close to him, I could tell his story properly. Instead, I have only bits and pieces.
I suppose his motivation in joining up was the patriotism of those days or the chance to get out of a small Alabama town where the only future lay in a job at the cotton mill. Part of a family of 11 children, he saw brothers going off to war and joined the Marines the first chance he got, despite being underage. Later, he switched over to the Air Force and flew on airplanes but not as a pilot. His job was as a mechanic. I’m not sure where he was stationed. I know he went on missions to Japan for when he returned to the little country house he grew up in, he brought with him a fancy silk pillow and a complete set of “Made in Occupied Japan” china for my grandma.
As soon as my mother graduated high school, she caught the first train out of Oklahoma and headed to Washington D.C. to work in the War Department. That’s where the two met. He, a dashing young soldier with blond hair and blue eyes. She, a young country girl who sent everything she could afford back home for her family. In 1950 they married, and I was born in Washington a couple of years later. Not long afterwards, my father took us to Alabama and got out of the service.
He was never the same as when he left home for the war my aunt tells me. Can I imagine that something happened during the war that changed him forever? Would it have happened anyway? It’s a mystery that died with him.
I do know that on this day for honoring the men and women who have served our country honorably, I recognize that they have made a great sacrifice, some with their lives. While many have been wounded with bullets and bombs and have healed, others carry forever wounds that do not heal.
This, I believe, was my father’s story.