Tag Archives: WWII

He was a boy once…

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A Veteran’s Legacy

He was a boy once, taught to ride ponies by his mama.
He had only one sister, no brothers, and a father who wasn’t present.
He was a boy who couldn’t breathe, lungs constricted by asthma.
He worked odd jobs to help support the family.
He was a boy who played saxophone and clarinet well.
He struggled in classes and was told he wasn’t bright.
He was a boy when he left school, not yet graduated, not yet 18.

He left school on the promise of a high school diploma.
He was too young to sign the papers.
He asked his mother for consent; she conceded, her only son would serve.
He was skinny, runt-like, at only 109 pounds, but they would take him.
He would play in the band and be trained as a medic.
He would serve in the name of his family, his friends, his country.
He served in the Navy, on the USS Yorktown, in the Pacific during WWII.

He played his saxophone and wheezed at night.
He saw action.
He saw death and pain and horror no boy of 16 or 17 should see.
He bonded with his shipmates, and they with him.
He mourned the loss of his best friend.
He swallowed his fear.
He rescued men when the ship was hit.
He was injured.
He earned medals.
He entered as a boy; he left as a man.
He said he simply did what he had to do, that they all did.

He lived in Paris after the war.
He played jazz and conversed with Jean-Paul Sartre.
He returned home to begin anew.
He went back to school on the GI bill.
He became a lawyer.
He met a woman and proposed 6 weeks later.
He married her in less than a year.
He started a family and he returned to school.
He became a psychologist.
He built a marriage, a family, and a private practice.
He became a writer.
He lectured.
He inspired.

He regularly challenged his mind; education mattered to the boy who left high school.
He teased with a dry sense of humor.
He encouraged and guided his children in their education and in life.
He traveled the world and inspired his children to do the same.
He woke with sick children, mourned the loss of a child, and assembled toys late on Christmas Eve.
He openly missed them when the last had left the nest.
He loved his children well.

He was a romantic.
He would buy her violets, the flowers she carried on their wedding day.
He called her “Doll”, and his eyes still sparkled each time he looked at her.
He would ask her, “Did I make you feel loved today?” at the end of the day.
He held her hand when they walked.
He celebrated their love.
He would share almost 50 years with her.
He loved her well.

He rarely spoke of the pain he had seen in the war or in life.
He served his country, his community, and his family.
He left a legacy of discipline, of humility, but most of all, of love.
He was a veteran, and I’m proud to say he was my father.
And, he is missed.

To all the men and women who serve and have served our country, my family and I thank you.

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I interrupt this blog to…

My grandmother and grandfather, both children of Irish immigrants, served in WWI. Grandma, a nurse, served again in WWII. Far from home, my dad also served in WWII. He was a boy when he enlisted, 16, maybe 17. He hadn’t finished high school. His mother had to sign consent. He had severe asthma, but we were a country at war, and he was accepted. He was granted his high school diploma when he enlisted and was assigned to the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. He served as a band musician and medic. He grew up fast. He had to; he was serving our country, a job he took seriously.

As I was growing up, my dad rarely spoke of his time in the service. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t push. I know he saw “a lot of action” but I never heard the specifics. He had been awarded several medals, but he had given them away to “kids on the streets” in Paris after the war; he never thought he would have his own children. Much later in life, I know my mom contacted a Congressman and duplicates were issued. I saw them only once. After he was diagnosed with cancer, I starting asking the questions I had always wondered about but thought I would have more time, or a better setting, or withheld for fear of prying. I asked him to share with me what he saw, and heard, and smelled. I wanted him to tell me the stories that formed the man from a boy during wartime. I asked him to share before it was too late.

He shared fragments. I heard snippets of stories long tucked away; his weight at enlistment (109); his mother’s first reaction (No! He was her only son.); his persuasion to change her mind (You served. I owe it to this country.) Some tales were new, some familiar. He answered “Why the Navy?” with “Because, I’ve always loved the sea.” I dug for more. He chose to go in before graduation because he was automatically guaranteed a high school diploma. (A teacher had once told him he should drop-out because he wasn’t bright enough to finish. After the war, he played as a jazz musician in Paris, returned to the U.S., became a lawyer, worked for 5 years, hated it, returned to school, completed his PhD. in psychology, and wrote several books on marriage and parenting. Not bad for an “almost drop-out.”) I heard about “the guys that would tease” because he slept standing up due to his asthma and his nickname (Wheezy Joe.) I pushed for more. He told me about the fighter jet pilot that “took him under his wing.” The pilot was older by several years; he looked out for my dad and became one of the best friends my dad ever had. Dad would help him check out his plane before a mission; he liked being on the flight deck. I heard the tale of the loss of that friend and of the brutal reality of the war. Though I will not share that story, I will say I heard a tone in my dad’s voice I had never heard before. There was profound sadness.  In that moment, I was talking with a WWII veteran, not just my dad, and it was an honor to hear his tales.

When he was done, I asked him, “How? How does a boy process what you experienced?” His answer was spoken with humility; “You don’t. You just do what you have to do to get the job done.”

I was glad I had pushed, so that I may carry his stories to future generations.

Today, I interrupt this blog to say, “Thank you,” to all the men and women that have done and continue to do what you do to “get the job done,” and to the families that support them in that mission. God bless you, all.

On this Veterans Day, won’t you take just a few minutes to watch this video while you give thanks with me?