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Posts Tagged ‘war_stories’

private ryanI graduated from college before I knew my father had been in the Pacific in World War II. He let it slip in a very strange way. I don’t know how, but we were at dinner and wondering where some obscure island was in the Pacific. Dad knew where is was (off the coast of Australia) with an unusual degree of certainty. We asked him how he knew this He said it was because that’s where soldiers went for R&R during the war. But we persisted. “How do you know? How do you know?”

“Because I was there,” he said.

Dad didn’t like to talk about the war. He said most of the things he saw were so terrible, he’s been trying to block them out every minute of the rest of his life. However, there are a few things I have managed to collect over the years.

First, my dad enlisted, he wasn’t drafted.  An avid reader with a keen interest in current events, my dad reasoned that war was coming and he wanted to get in and serve his time before he wound up on the beaches of Normandy. I think he was trying to be pragmatic. If war broke out, all my uncles would be drafted and there would be no one left at home to help support my grandparents. He was due to be discharged on his birthday, January 12, 1942. Pearl Harbor changed everything. Apparently if you are in the Army when war is declared, you are in the Army until Peace is declared.

Dad was stationed at Ft. Devens in Ayer, Mass. and on Camp Edwards on Cape Cod. He told us that they used to sneak over to the Air Force base on the Cape for breakfast because the Air Force was the most elite branch of the military and they had the best food.

He was a mess sergeant and an ambulance driver. He made creamed corn for a general who didn’t like much else. He conned his fellow GIs into eating beef stew every night by calling it something different every night. He danced with girls in the clubs and bars in Hynannisport.  One of my friends whose dad had been in Africa with Patton said I should never dismiss my Dad’s service to his country. “Listen Franny, someone has to keep the Cape safe for the Kennedys,” he said. Dad liked that a lot and eventually incorporated it into his Army hijinx stories, of which there were many.

My father was discharged from the Army before the war’s end. I know he spent some time in a VA hospital in West Roxbury, Mass. I don’t know why or for how long, but I think it was for quite a while.

When they sent him back, it was to the Pacific where he drove an ambulance and was a medic with a MASH unit. He was the one who drove up to the front and did the triage to see who the doctors could save and transported them back to the Army hospital. He wasn’t even 21 years old! A college boy from Worcester, Massachusetts who liked crossword puzzles, the Boston Red Sox, Broadway musicals and Heddy Lamarr had to decide who would be left on the battlefield to die. It’s a staggering thought.

(Years later, we watched “Saving Private Ryan” on DVD. I spent the a good part of the movie with my hands over my eyes while my Dad ate popcorn and made jokes about Tom Hanks. I asked him why he wasn’t as horrified as I was. “Because real war is so much worse than this, you cannot begin to imagine.”)

I once asked my father if he was a war hero. “No,” he said. “The heroes are the ones who don’t come back.”

I know my Dad would disagree but he was always my hero and I think he was a hero to the soldiers he fed with creamed corn, beef stew and scrambled eggs and the soldiers whose lives he saved to go back to the States and tell their kids all the funny things that happened to them in the war.

He had a pin to wear that said he was a Vet. During the lean years of the war, any man who wasn’t in uniform was instantly suspect and resented mightily. My Dad was on the bus one day and some people were giving a 4F an awful time for not being in the Army, even thoug it wasn’t his fault. When they got off the bus, my dad gave the man his Vet pin and told him to wear it. The man didn’t want to take the pin.

“What will you do?” he asked my dad.

“Don’t worry about me,” my father said. ” I know where I’ve been.”

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