My father during his paratrooper training in England
Every Memorial Day, I look at photographs of my father when he was a very young man in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was quite the looker (as was my mother; I get my good looks from them both, you know).
I understand that Memorial Day is a day of remembering those who died during all of the wars, and my father returned from WW II alive. Nonetheless, now that he is dead, I seem to think of him more often during this day than during Veteran’s Day.
Dad signed up for service and was assigned to the tank division. He decided this was not exciting enough for him, so he became a paratrooper with the 508th Parachute Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division (I don’t know which of these comes first, so forgive me here). He trained in England and Ireland; so it was a little more special for me to travel to Ireland back in 2011 on an organized photo tour, because I knew I was visiting a place that Dad thought was beautiful.
Dad jumped over Normandy on D-Day (June 6, 1944), and fought during Operation Market Garden (September 1944) as well as at the Battle of the Bulge (Dec 16, 1944). Of all the paratroopers who jumped during those battles, Dad was one of the very few to return alive each time.
When Dad returned from the war, he was a changed man. He drank – too much, and I’m pretty sure he suffered from a form of PTSD; I don’t even know if the doctors of that time knew what PTSD was, but they certainly never discussed it. So of course, it went untreated in Dad as well as so many other returning veterans.
Dad never talked about the war…unless he was drunk…and it always ended in tears. What Mom and Granny (Dad’s Mom) and the rest of us learned from these times was that those experiences were horrific, as are all experiences dealing with war and battle. Oh, Dad had some really neat stories to share, too, and he didn’t seem to mind talking about those times. My favorite is the one he recounted of Christmas Eve in Belgium.
My relationship with my father was definitely complicated….well, maybe not. We didn’t get along and we didn’t see eye-to-eye about much, if anything….except photography. I hated his drinking and it scared me. I don’t drink much myself and I think it’s because of this….along with the arthritis medicine I take. Nonetheless, Dad and I had a bond with our photography. And I find it ironic that I am more like my father than I ever realized. I have a temper that constantly needs the edges smoothed. I’m not always a patient person, although as I get older, that seems to be less of an issue. Just like Dad, I have a love for adventure and travel and photography.
So many people don’t understand the significance of remembering Memorial Day any longer (although with all the returning veterans from the current wars, that might be changing a little). As one of the Facebook photos I saw this morning noted: Memorial Day is not just a day to have a bbq (although that’s not a bad thing, if you are with friends and family).
Someday, I am going to get to Normandy. I want to see where Dad fought. I want to take my camera with me. I want to stand and listen to the waves hit the beach. I want to walk along the shoreline. I almost made it there in 2011 for an organized photo tour except that tour was cancelled and I instead traveled to Ireland. I’ll get there, though. I’m planning to travel to Paris in 2015 and maybe I’ll take a detour for a day or two.
I think of Dad now and then, but especially during Memorial Day – moreso than even Father’s Day (for reasons written above). Memorial Day is not just about WWII and all those who died during that time; it’s about all the wars that are fought on our behalf, and all those men and women who did not return to their friends and families, so that we may continue to live our lives as we so choose. I don’t like war, but it seems to be a part of our human genome. Too bad #ArcticBiosystems #Helix couldn’t have figured out how to remove that particular item from our DNA.
So, here’s to another year of remembering Dad.