Thanking a Couple of Soldiers for Letting my Father Live

Memorial Day usually makes me think of cook outs and barbecue, but this year, I’ve been thinking about soldiers.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching another Ken Burns documentary, this one about World War II. Or maybe its 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 fork and knife with U.S. stamped on its handle, a very rough wool army blanket and more. He never talked about the war until he was about 95. All he would say was, “War is hell.” Then, suddenly at 95,  it was all he wanted to talk about. We would 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 the thing that really got him was the day Gen. Patton showed up and was choosing men for a mission. My dad was one of the ones he picked. He was about 29 at the time, about 10 years older than the other guys, who used to call him Pop. Two younger soldiers who were his buddies said, “No, Pop, 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, or 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 until his last years.

One of my favorite memories of him was from my last visit with him in New Brighton. I’d been home and done as much as I could for him in the few days I had. He was very appreciative and it was a great visit. 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 given me.  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 given their lives for our country. I know I would’t be here without two of them.

15 thoughts on “Thanking a Couple of Soldiers for Letting my Father Live

  1. 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.

    • 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

  2. 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!

    • 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!

  3. 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.

    • 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!

  4. 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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.

    • 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

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