— Eve Merriam
American Poet (1916 to 1992)
(a.k.a. Eva Moskovitz)
Not a Veterans Day goes by that I don’t think about my father.
Stationed in northern Italy in what used to be called the Army Air Corps during World War II, he was an aircraft mechanic. From what I can recall of the few conversations he offered of “the war,” the primary weaponry used by soldiers in his role was wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers.
But, he also was assigned a loaded gun in the event of an enemy attack against his base.
From what I can recall of the few stories he told, he used it.
My scant information about his involvement in the great global conflict came from only a few father-and-son conversations, all of which were held in the latter years of his life.
Until age, disease and chronic illness began taking their toll on his health, and in some cases his spirit, he refused to talk of World War II. As a child, I thought nothing of it. I was too young to understand war, the purpose of war and why men fought it. So I didn’t ask about it, especially after getting my first send-off.
“Go peddle your oats,” was my father’s favorite expression for when I was getting in the way. I’m pretty sure those were his words the first time I asked about the war.
My mother occasionally reminded my older siblings and me — or perhaps just me because I was the baby of the three — not to bring up the subject in his presence. My sister and brother, five and three years’ my elder respectively, probably knew better.
My mom had her reasons, and I’m sure my dad had his for not talking about it publicly.
But sometimes they slipped.
Once, I recall my mother telling me as a teenager, “Son, that war was tough on your father.” Perhaps she thought I was finally old enough.
She didn’t go into detail but I understood her meaning. My father was a loving man who provided for his family and who worked hard in low-paying, blue-collar jobs his entire life. He believed in America and this country’s decision in the 1940s to help rid the world of the spreading Nazi evil. But he later battled his own demons — the most serious of which was alcohol. He worked to hide it from the kids, as did my mother. But we knew.
We were young. But we were not blind.
War affects soldiers in countless ways. Many are not good.
While researching Veterans Day recently, I came across a quote that returned my thoughts to Dad. It is attributed to Jose Narosky, an Argentine author, who wrote, “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”
No truer words for war and its aftermath.
My father could attest.
Once as a young boy when we lived in a tiny hamlet named Falkner in northern Mississippi, I came across a dusty old cardboard cigar box deep within the recesses of my parent’s cluttered closet. Opening it with a delicate, almost trembling touch, I realized it was my father’s. Inside were several dog-eared, faded, black-and-white photographs of my dad in uniform, as well as uniformed pictures of his three brothers — all of whom fought in World War II. The aging, decrepit box also contained a handful of empty ammunition casings, age-stained paperwork and a few yellowing medals.
This box — and his unspoken memories — were all that remained of my father’s tour of duty in the European Theater.
I don’t know what became of the box or its contents.
But I know this of my father.
He was an American soldier.
He was an unsung hero.
It is not a title he embraced nor one he sought.
It is one I gave him Jan. 15, 1991 — the day of his passing from this life.
He was a good man.
One whose memory carries me into my own hereafter.
One whose lessons I will take to my grave.
I loved my father.
If only I had told him.
I miss you, Dad.
And I love you.
Especially today ...
A day when America honors her veterans.
A time when I honor you.