Special note from SoupAddict:
When I prepared this post some time back, I scheduled it for today, October 3rd, my late father’s birthday. Not surprisingly, Autumn finds me thinking of my father quite often, and I wanted to honor his memory and defining life moments with an entry on my blog.
I had no idea, back around Labor Day when I hit the “Schedule” button, that the next three weeks would bring a shocking diagnosis of lung cancer for my mother, followed in lightning speed by her death. We had mere weeks with her rather than the months we thought we would.
So on this day, October 3rd, I bury one parent on the birthday of the other. I want this post to go forward as planned, but felt it only right to change the title to “Remembering” and include a mention of my mother, as today will be filled with memories and quiet reflection. Dad would’ve wanted me to mention Mom in a post about him.
But no worries, folks, this is not a two-hanky post. Aside from this forward, it’s the same post I wrote a month ago. Frankly, I haven’t yet processed the death of my mother to where I could even compose a tear-jerker. As anyone who has had to plan the funeral (and find all the life’s paperwork) of a loved one knows, there is no time to even breathe until after the last car has departed the cemetery. Except for the stomach-punching call at work, and the knee-knocking, white-knuckled drive to my mother’s side, I’ve been numb. It will take a full night’s sound sleep before grief will have room to enter my weary brain.
So please continue, if you will. If you have an aging veteran in your life, I hope you’ll take a moment to learn about Honor Flight, an organization devoted to veterans, and one near and dear to my dad’s (and my) heart.
. . . .
My father was a World War II veteran.
Despite all of the wonderful personal descriptions I could give him, he would want that one to be listed first. I suspect many veterans feel that way: war is a life-changing, life-defining event. Walking away from years of daily death and violence and evil with yourself intact is more of an accomplishment than any well-heeled billionaire could ever claim.
Dad enlisted just shy of the legal age of 18. I never asked how he managed that. I suspect many, many young men did exactly the same thing in those heated days following the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
That day was my dad’s generation’s 9/11.
So, the Army sent my dad off to the European theater — France and Germany. For four years, my father witnessed more horror than I have seen in even the most grotesque Hollywood movie.
As a graduate student, I immersed myself completely in German history, gaining access, due to my academic standing, contacts and language skills, to texts and photos and personal accounts that will never reach the eyes and ears of any high school student — or college undergrad, for that matter — too stark and disturbing and surreal are they.
I traced my father’s harrowing soldier path through the war in these documents, removed by decades, secured under the safety of the university library’s fluorescent lighting, and shocked at the full picture of what he would’ve experienced but recounted to us kids in only short, humble sentences.
War is hell, people. Make no mistake about it. The Holocaust was real.
In the last decades of my father’s life, with his five children raised and his career years in the rear view mirror, his thoughts constantly turned back to the war. The Greatest Generation had bottled up their feelings for half a century, and the cork was bound to pop. Right up to the end, the defining moments of his life would occupy his days and stalk his dreams every night. But he never complained, never let on.
Several years ago, my father learned about the organization Honor Flight. As a means to help veterans find a tiny bit of closure to a dark and dreadful time in world history, an extremely caring and generous individual, Earl Morse, figured out a way to fly WWII vets to Washington D.C. to see the newly completed memorials created in honor of their service.
Remember the cemetery scene in “Saving Private Ryan?” These memorials have a similar cathartic effect, seeing them, touching them — often for the first time — in the company of fellow vets. It’s deeply meaningful. And the experience meant the world to my father.
Honor Flight provides this service free to World War II vets and terminally ill vets of other wars. Free. Flights leave from major airports and vets are transported, fed and tended to by organization staff and skilled volunteers for the entire day-long journey.
Yes, your vet will meet Bob Dole. He’s a devoted supporter of Honor Flight.
One sunny day in May of 2008, we sent my Dad off on his incredible journey to the Capitol, insignia bars on his hat, nitroglycerin holstered to his belt (my father survived not only WWII, but also five heart attacks), digital camera in his pocket, and hoped like heck it (the camera) would cooperate and compensate for the shaky hands of an 83-year-old. (As you can see, it did.)
If you have an aging vet in your life, please look into Honor Flight. As the daughter of a vet, and a woman who has never served in war, I’m endlessly grateful that there is an organization who could provide my father with an authentic, human experience worthy of our honorable vets.
Happy Birthday, Dad. You were, indeed, the Greatest Generation.