(In honor of Veterans Day, I run this encore post.)
My father was the kindest, most gentle man I've ever known. He was also the bravest—but I didn't realize how brave he was until a few years before he passed away.
I had known Dad was in the Army, but other than that, little was said of his service. In our home, we didn't discuss the war or Dad's role in it.
Oddly, I knew which branch of the service most of the men in my neighborhood served in. I can recall the stories their kids, my friends, shared about their father's memories of World War II. I saw photos their dads had taken and kept in albums. But I had no such references for my dad. It wasn't until I got married that I learned my father was an Army Ranger. That information was passed to me by my father-in-law. Any time my F-I-L met another vet he asked about his service, so when he met Dad, he inquired. My F-I-L explained that as a Ranger, my dad was a true hero. Who knew? He never said a word about his war experience. My father lived with memories of 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, Dad enlisted to serve his country.
All of my growing-up years, the war and my father's part in it were never discussed. Dad never offered any information about his service—not until a cold, gray morning in December 1996. I was staying with my parents, caring for my mother as she was dying. 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 the imminent passing of his wife.
Dad had 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 day after the battle had subsided and the smoke had cleared, my father walked the beach leading donkeys.
He spent I-don't-know-how-many-hours putting the bodies of dead soldiers on the donkeys and bringing them to an area where they 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 county, 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. Thank you, veterans!