May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

For years I would comment at the oddity of how I knew nobody that lost their fathers in WWII. I chalked it up to being a young man's war... boys sent to fight before they had the opportunity to fall in love, marry, have children. Boys sent to pay the ultimate sacrifice before they were able to realize all that life can provide... lives cut so short, so very short.

My grandfather, being the exception in my mind, his having had two young children when he was sent off to fight as a Seabee in the Pacific., the horrors of war upon him in Peleliu and the surrounding islands. I view him as regarded as the 'old man' being in his mid 20s.

My girlfriend's father was in the European theater for DDay, before he was married. My husband's father was in the Pacific on the USS Chase, before he was married. My girlfriend's husband rode up front with Patton, in the 3rd Army as a tank commander, before he was married.

So this has been the norm in my vision of WWII, unmarried men.

This is not the case, however, just my myopic view of a war where so many men and women made such great sacrifices, that still in 2010 we speak of it with reverence. My myopic view of a war, where everyone I knew came home, yet when I went to visit the Memorial in Washington, thinking it would be just another historical monument like the Washington monument, I found myself beside myself with grief and anguish at all that had been done... the blood that had been shed, for my Country, for OUR Country.

A Memorial that still chokes me up as I remember my visit.

The Memorials I need to take my sons to see.

And then I remember the day I realized that some Dads didn't come home.

I was at a funeral in January of 2006 for a friend of mine who had passed, a survivor of the Bataan Death March. His step grandchildren spoke. Veterans spoke. Old friends spoke.

It was a difficult funeral, even in his advanced age, having lived life to the fullest, it was difficult.

But there was one part that was the most difficult, in my prior post I referred to it as 'this one is going to leave a mark', and I will finally tell it here, having vowed I would never write it for public consumption, something that felt so personal.

But it's Memorial Day and we must remember.

The family filed up to speak, one by one, until they asked if there was anyone else that would like to speak. And on unsteady legs, she stood, she walked to the front, her body wracked with grief. She had been crying so very hard. She was in her early sixties. She held tissues in her hands and outwardly wondered to all of us... could she do this?

And she spoke of attending a reunion for Bataan Death March survivors many many years ago... 10 years or 15 years... so long ago... and of writing on an index card and posting on a bulletin board, "Did you know my father?" and she stated his name and gave her hotel room.

And she waited.

And he called. My friend called. He'd seen the card and he knew her father, a man she never knew as she was a baby when he went off to war. And he met this woman, still grieving the death of a great man she never knew. And... he became her surrogate father.

All those years, she was folded into his family, and he told her stories of the great man she never knew. And of his last hours, for he was there. He told her all she wanted and needed to know...

And she in turn viewed this man as hers. This friend of mine filled shoes that had been empty for her entire childhood, her young adult life... always empty.

So when she went up to speak on his behalf and to tell us all what a great man we had all lost, she was grieving two people. She was grieving the father she never knew and grieving a man she grew to love as her own, a man who had given her a glimpse into a horrible world of a man she loved and doesn't remember hugging. A man who loved her as a daughter, the way her father was never able.

She was grieving all over again.

And I cried.

It was probably one of the most gut wrenching things I have ever witnessed, watching her struggle to speak, to try to convey. She succeeded as it is burned in my memory.

And my myopic view of WWII changed forever.

We must never forget.

Posted by Boudicca at May 31, 2010 12:10 PM


Posted by: patti at May 31, 2010 05:52 PM

It seems that most of those who returned didn't tell much to very many. Humble or the memories too painful? Probably both.
I think it is up to the few who know the stories to help all of us remember. We need to know.
Bless your grandpa for doing what her father could not.

Posted by: Jean at May 31, 2010 08:20 PM

Jean- Oh no, not my grandaddy. He was just a friend. Odd how some of my friends would have been peers of my grandparents. Age matters not much to me...

He was just an amazing man, this friend of mine. Can you imagine, finding a note on a board... and taking this war child in. He had no blood children of his own, but many children and grandchildren from his wife and they WERE HIS and they viewed him as THEIRS. It was the warmest thing and so I think in his heart, he had enough love to take in more people as his. We are worse for not having him around anymore.

Posted by: Bou at May 31, 2010 09:06 PM

Thank you so much Bou for posting this...

Posted by: Mike D. at June 1, 2010 12:10 AM

Bou this really struck a chord with me.

My father is a Vietnam Veteran and I cannot tell you how many times I have stood at various Vietnam war memorials reading the line "B Sqn 3 CAV Regt (RAAC): Trooper Michael Tognolini, 20th April 1970" thinking if my fathers armoured personnel carrier had been leading their group that day instead of Mick's it would be his children reading my father's name instead of me reading his.

Lest we forget. xx

Posted by: Shaz at June 1, 2010 02:38 AM

oops *blush*

Posted by: Jean at June 1, 2010 12:30 PM

Bou, thanks for sharing this.

Posted by: Bob at June 2, 2010 08:49 PM