8.21.2010

Dad's War

I first found out that my father had been a soldier when I was a little girl watching television with him one night. The show was Combat!, a World War II drama set in the European Theatre of the war. I was in awe of the characters on that show, and learned about the Second World War through it. Dad shared he had been in that war, but in the other main area of it - the Pacific Theatre.

Later, as I was growing up, occasions came up where Dad would share a little bit more about what he did in the war. I noticed my Mom was a bit concerned about Dad talking about it, saying it might bother him. I found out when he first came home from the war, he had nightmares, sleepwalked, etc. One dream he would have, Mom said, would cause him to mutter '...no place dry to sleep', recalling time spent in foxholes during tropical rains. He'd get out of bed sometimes during those dreams and try and get into dresser drawers to sleep, as if it was a dry corner of the foxhole he had found. He'd thrash around during his sleep, waking Mom and she'd try and help him calm down. Even after many years, by the time he was talking about it to me, there were times I could see tears coming to his eyes as he recalled a friend named Alabama having his head blown off in front of his eyes.

So learning about Dad's experiences in WWII came slowly. As years passed, he would talk about them more. I interviewed him in high school when I started being more active with family geneaology (I hope to make available online his oral histories someday...) During family gatherings, he'd sometimes talk about it with my brother-in-laws, and I'd stick close by to hear what I could. Later, he recorded memories on tape and wrote many of them down on paper. I learned many of his army buddies' names - Alabama, Wassing, Sickles, Stoneroad. I met Wassing - Marv Wassing - a few times when I was a little girl. Later, when Dad and Mom had their golden wedding anniversary, I attempted to invite Marv and his wife to attend, but he was very ill. Dad and I called him on the phone and spoke with him for awhile. It was the last time they spoke - Wassing died a few weeks later.

Dad had lost contact with Stoneroad. He mentioned often how he'd love to get in touch with him again. In the late 1990's, I made it my mission to track him down. I did a lot of searching online, including military reunion groups. After a lot of research and many emails, I located someone who knew how to get in touch with him. I emailed a relative, and soon we had his current address and phone number. I passed it on to Dad, and shortly thereafter Dad called Henry Stoneroad, his old friend. Stoneroad was very surprised - but pleased - to be hearing from Dad. Tentative plans were made for them to meet as soon as they could. Ideas were tossed around. Alas, due to circumstances and Dad's decreasing health, they never were able to meet in person. They spoke a few more times on the phone, but that was all. I'm still thrilled to have been able to get them back in touch with one another...

Dad was in the 127th Infantry of the 32nd Division, or the "Red Arrow Division". When Dad was with the 127th, they were involved in the campaigns in New Guinea, Philipines, and mainland Japan (occupational forces...)

I loved my father for many reasons - he was a loving, gentle man with a quiet sense of humour and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. His humble beginnings and later life may appear unremarkable, but he was anything but. He showed me how a man should love a woman, by the loving and warm way he cared for my Mom (and it wasn't always easy...) I was very proud of him.

Not long after we lost Dad, I discovered the Veteran's History Project. I sent for their Project Kit, filled out the paperwork, and sent it in with a DVD of his voice and images, plus copies of his written memiors. They are now part of the official record in the Library of Congress...