Archive for Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dad, I hardly knew ye

June 15, 2008


I first called him Daddy, then shortened it to Dad. During my early teen years, I briefly flirted with calling him Lew but that felt silly and stilted even to me. I'm grateful I had the opportunity to know him as an adult, but - while I thought I knew him well -there was a part of his life that was closed to me.

Other than the soldiers with whom he served in World War II, only Mom - who checked him while he slept for identifying scars and moles after his three-year absence - knew some of the painful experiences he had endured. My sisters and I sometimes heard funny stories of the war ... like the soldier from Alabama who dreaded the "talking shells" that screamed "you-ain't-going-back-to-Ala-BAM!"

We viewed a photo of Dad standing next to his Jeep making snowballs during June in the Bavarian Alps and other photos of him pictured with his buddies in exotic locations in Africa and Europe. We even marveled at his photo of a crashed German "jet-propulsion" airplane. What we didn't see were the heart-breaking photos he took at the liberation of Dachau. I have Dad's Dachau photos now and realize he was wise to take them and even wiser not to show them. Ike prophetically said that in the future some would say the Holocaust never happened and he ordered that photos of man's inhumanity to man be taken as absolute proof.

My sisters and I learned to sing the war songs Dad sang at the top of his lungs while shaving. He interspersed those songs with Italian opera, and, while we never picked up on Italian, we learned all the words to the war songs, few of which were G-rated. My third grade teacher was appalled when I sang one of Dad's ditties for show and tell. I had prudently removed the word I knew was bad - substituting "sleep" for "crap" - but in my childhood innocence left in a word that referred to the naughty body parts of a hairy baboon.

Shortly before Mom died, husband Ray and I attended a reunion of World War II Rangers in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We traveled there to learn more about my late father's military experiences for Mom's benefit ... and for ours. It was there that I invited the Rangers to hold a reunion in Lawrence, but my main purpose for inviting them was so Mom could meet the Rangers with whom Dad served.

Mom was hospitalized at the time, but was so excited when I phoned to say they had accepted the invitation that she had the nurse dial my sister in California so she could deliver the news. Mom never met the Rangers because we lost her two weeks later, but Ray and I have continued our efforts to learn about Dad's World War II experiences from his contemporaries in Darby's Rangers and the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion, the unit he joined when the Rangers were disbanded after the Cisterna disaster.

In early May, we attended a Ranger mini-reunion at Lake Okoboji, Iowa. It was there that Dad's sergeant asked, "Did your dad ever mention going into Sicily by submarine shortly before the invasion?"

Turned out that the mission was called off, but Dad was slated to go and that doesn't surprise me. I knew him well enough to know he was a risk-taker.

Last week, we returned from a road trip to Baltimore for a reunion of the 83rd. I recently learned that Dad was in a "house" that exploded and that he was treated for concussion and temporary blindness at the Kolmar aid station.

I was thrilled to obtain a picture of the house - Chateau de Moussey - which looks like a castle or grand hotel. Even better, I spoke to the two officers who searched the house for booby-traps after the retreating German officers left it. They did a very thorough search, even looking in the coal cellar, but they couldn't move tons of coal and that is where the Nazis had hidden the time-bomb that detonated as American officers were blissfully sleeping in real beds instead of on the cold, hard ground.

As I learn more about Dad and the men with whom he served, my admiration grows for them - not only for their daring and necessary deeds during World War II, but because they came home to build families and careers and communities. Those old soldiers are in the 80s and 90s now, but it isn't hard to imagine the boys they were.

The 83rd CMB, aka The Rangers' Artillery, supported the Rangers in many battles across two continents. The relationship between the units was a close one, so close that one 83rd officer at the reunion sang the beginning - stopping before the X-rated part - of a Ranger ditty I'd often heard Dad sing.

I didn't tell him that I knew all the verses.


TopJayhawk 9 years, 7 months ago

My Father died a yr ago last Jan. I knew him well, but since he has been gone, and as I get older, I realize that the best things he did for me were the non-verbal things. He was always there for me. He always had words of wisdom if I asked. If I didn't, the wisdom was still on display in the examples he provided for me by the quiet way he lived his life. If only I were smarter back then to understand what he was telling me without talking. I miss him terribly.

weatherguy48 9 years, 7 months ago

Epic. Your father grew up and lived with traits that the current and future generations will never have. I sometimes wish that I was born and raised some decades before now, at a time where at least real life took some sort of place above popular culture and current trends. Real men have that sort of dedication, yet in our modern world everything isn't so simple. So many distractions, so may reasons to quit. Such a crime, but I guess the world evolves. Many young men (even me) live their lives based upon money and material objects. We didn't have tough dads to set us straight and instill core values early in life; we had cell phones and minimalistic parents that simply accepted the burden as a 'world issue' and left it to the dogs of conflict that somehow existed above their spectrum, though nothing of the sort ever existed.Author, I am 22 years old. I am not like your father was, but I wish I was. Discipline and dedication on that level is truly inspiring, and it brings a call for the older days. The days that parents actually taught their children rather than relying on facets of entertainment to 'keep them out of my hair'. The days where such lessons where important and above all, seen as core life lessons rather than 'bonus lessons' as seen by many modern parents.The world was much better before we came up with ten thousand excuses to not teach our children. Laziness will kill the world, and the villain is the very technology that I am using to post this reply.

bearded_gnome 9 years, 7 months ago

mhg,this is a very well written article. I feel i know your Dad because you wrote so movingly. Dads' most important gift to their children/ grandchildren: time and attention. weatherguy48,thank you for such a fine post. you are correct in every point.
my father died when I was sixteen. I, of course, was still in adolescent rebellion. that makes the passing years harder missing him. I was especially aware of his absence in my life when i reached the age he was when he died. son, if you're reading this, there is a finite, limited, time you have with your father. its okay to be selfish: get as much of your father's time, and his lessons, into your heart while you can. of course, that is if he's a good guy. but even dads who aren't so good can still teach, maybe not by example but by illustrating the wrong way to go through life. **happy fathers day. especially, happy fathers day to those who, like MHG's dad, put on the uniform to serve us all.

canyon_wren 9 years, 7 months ago

Great posts--especially from weatherguy and bearded gnome. My dad has been gone for 30 years now, but was a great father and I still miss him and still think of jokes and other things that I would like to share with him. The sad thing is that young people today (weatherguy, you are an exception and I know you are not the only one, but you are in the minority) don't miss what they never had and don't have any examples to draw on for being the best kind of father for their own children. People scoff at those of us who say there were "better times," but this was true and we could make them better again with some conscious effort.

bearded_gnome 9 years, 7 months ago

why thank you ma'am, wren. you are right, if we chose to, we can change this, and even make the technology work in favor of this. I am a "father figure" for a young lady who lives 1800 miles away, thanks to the internet. you are also correct that 98% of young men today do not know what they have missed, because they assume that the fathering which they got has been the norm, or is somehow proper.

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