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Thanking a Couple of Soldiers for Letting my Father Live

May 28, 2018

Memorial Day usually makes me think of cook outs and barbecue, but this year, I’ve been thinking about the reason for the day, our fallen soldiers.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching another Ken Burns documentary, this one about World War II. Or maybe it’s because I know how much being a soldier in that war meant to my dad.

He came back from World War II with an Army tent, his canteen, mess kit, a gas mask, a plain metal fork and knife with U.S. stamped on its handle, a very rough wool army blanket, and more in a military storage trunk that sat in the basement. He never talked about the war until he was about ninety-five. All he would say was, “War is hell.” Then, suddenly, as if a switch flipped,  it was all he wanted to talk about. We’d walk into doctors offices and he would strike up a conversation with anyone who’d listen about the war.  But there was one story I’d never heard from him until about a year before he died.

Cropped Dad in Marseille August 2 1945

My dad, in the foreground, in Marseilles, France.

After training in Ft. Lewis Washington he went to Europe. He spent time in Brussels Belgium, Marseilles France, England and probably a few other places I can’t remember. My dad served as a medic in the war in the European theater. He was under Gen. George Patton.

He said he’ll never forget the day Gen. Patton showed up and was choosing men for a mission. It was called Task Force Baum. My dad was one of those chosen. He was about 29 at the time, 10 years older than most of the other guys, who used to call him Pops. Two younger soldiers who were his buddies said, “No, Pops, we’ll go — you’re too old for this kind of stuff.”

He heard a few days later that his young friends had been killed in the mission and it left him wondering why they had to die and not him.

Dad's hat

I bought this for my dad a year before he died. He wore it proudly.

I don’t have the answer. Maybe it’s just luck, fate, or God’s will, but I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to those two young men.  I wish I knew their names, so I could salute them properly.  If it wasn’t for their sacrifice, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here. I know my dad thought about them often. I think they would have been proud of how he lived his life and kept  his military bearing through his last years.

One of my favorite memories of him was from my last visit with him in New Brighton. I’d done as much as I could for him in the few days I was there. He was very appreciative and our time together was lovely. As I was leaving, we had our usual hug and tearful goodbye. Normally, he’d walk me to the door and wait there, waving until I pulled away, but old age changed that.

Dad Saluting.JPG

Dad, in the front yard with a flag my brother Bob bought him.

This time, as I was walking away, he struggled out of his recliner chair, wobbly without his walker. He stood as straight as he could in the middle of the living room, wavering slightly, and saluted me. It didn’t register with me at the time, but now I know that was the highest honor he could have bestowed.  It was the last time I saw him conscious.

On Memorial Day, I salute him, and all the men and women who’ve fought and especially those who’ve given their lives for our country. I know I would’t be here without two of them.

  • Reply
    I Finally Saw Washington, D.C. – At Fran's Table
    October 24, 2023 at 10:44 am

    […] He was born today, October 24th, in 1915, one of the greatest generation. We lost 416,800 soldiers in that war. I know my dad remembered two of them very well because they offered to take his place on a dangerous mission called Task Force Baum and never came back. You can read about it on my blog, Thanking a Couple of Soldiers for Letting My Father Live. […]

  • Reply
    Chas Madonio
    May 30, 2018 at 11:44 am

    Touching and poignant. I wish I had gotten to know your dad better. I only met him once – I think it was at Donna’s mother’s funeral – and really didn’t get much of a chance to talk to him. But he obviously lives on thru his children, and you all are a testament to his character.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      June 3, 2018 at 12:00 pm

      Awww Chas. Thank you so much. He does inspire me on a daily basis and I try to live up to his standards, but it’s not easy. He would have loved to have gotten to know you. He was an excellent judge of character and would have known right away that you are a standout, great guy. Thanks for always taking the time to write! xo

  • Reply
    May 30, 2018 at 8:53 am

    What a poignant story. You’ve brought a lump to my throat. Your father sounds like a wonderful, honorable man. And the two young men who stepped up and took the mission, I’m sure that they were quite honorable themselves, to do such a thing for a friend. Our world is full of admirable people who do good things, despite the fact that most of what the media feeds us is the negative stories. Thanks for sharing this moving, yet uplifting story, Fran!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      June 3, 2018 at 11:58 am

      Oh Leslie, it’s true. We have to remind ourselves of that. There is good in so many people, but it gets lost in the ugliness and divisiveness anymore. Thank you for such a sweet response and for taking the time to write!

  • Reply
    G.A. "Tony" Maupin
    May 29, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks for your words on your dad’s service and the aftermath. Veterans often do not want to talk about their war experiences, until very late in life. One of the factors, I have read, is the factor called “Survivor’s Guilt.” The title “One Soldier’s Story,” written by WW II veteran & former U.S. Senator, Bob Dole, can show you an example how survivor guilt was dealt with by Soldier Robert Dole [and later Senator Dole]. I found the book inspiring, both as a veteran myself, and as an American.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      May 29, 2018 at 6:25 pm

      Hi Tony, I am sure you are right. I would like to read that story. I wonder if their deaths were one reason he pushed himself so hard in life. Could very well be. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and for taking the time to write. And thank YOU for serving!

  • Reply
    Donna Tunno
    May 29, 2018 at 6:15 am

    I literally cried when I read this story. Grandpa never talked about the war until he was in his 90’s, but I don’t remember this poignant story. I remember the time we found his medic journal after he was dead. His use of the English language in writing out instructions was way beyond his 3rd or 5th grade education. His writing was impressive – as was just about everything he did. He was an extraordinary ordinary man. Thank you, Frannie, for sharing this story and keeping his memory alive.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      May 29, 2018 at 6:23 pm

      I had written about this before in an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, but never blogged about it. He was so proud to be a veteran of World War II, I figured it was time. I sure do miss him and am glad you appreciated him too.

  • Reply
    Colleen Rudnicki
    May 29, 2018 at 5:42 am

    Fran, this is a beautiful story. Uncle Robert told me about this. I could tell it bothered him that his friends died and he lived. As you said, unanswered… Your Dad lived a life to bring pride to all his family. He was so compassionate and kind, and extremely hard working. Maybe now he knows why. Happy Memorial Day. Thank you, Fran.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      May 29, 2018 at 6:21 pm

      Thank you Colleen. You are sweet to take the time to write such wonderful things about Dad. Of course, I’m partial, but I do think his fellow soldiers would have been proud of him. I’m sure he does know now. I hope your Memorial Day was great. xo

  • Reply
    May 29, 2018 at 2:03 am

    God Bless those two young men, and all the others who gave their lives for us.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      May 29, 2018 at 6:18 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. I am so thankful and am glad you are too! Thanks also for always reading and taking the time to respond!

      • daedae51
        May 29, 2018 at 7:57 pm

        Your posts always make my day but I don’t always know how to express myself or I would respond more often.

  • Reply
    Matilda S. Novak
    May 28, 2018 at 11:12 pm

    God bless you, Fran…and God bless your sweet, brave Dad.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      May 29, 2018 at 6:15 pm

      Thank you Matilda, I really appreciate your sweet words.

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