Monday, May 31, 2010

Daddy, What did You do in the War?

Official DOD Guide for observances of the Days...Image via Wikipedia

As a kid, I was sort of disappointed that my father didn't have a lot of great, heroic tales to tell about his experiences in World War II. You know how it goes, the "Daddy, what did you do in the War?" kind of thing. He was a military policeman and when I asked him why he'd chosen that duty, he explained it was because of his accuracy with a .45 caliber sidearm. He'd qualified as an expert marksman, largely because he'd shot handguns on the ranch since childhood, and the military police wanted men who were "good with a gun."

As an adult, I've come to regard it a blessing that he didn't ship out overseas, because I have the sense, had he done so, his tales may have been more disturbing than thrilling. He enlisted when he turned 18 -- six days following the date his son would be born a few years later -- and finished basic training during the last six months of the War in Europe. One of the tasks of the military police at that time was to manage prisoners of war and to assist with victims of the Holocaust. I'm so glad he never had to have those memories.

Although he was adept at hiding it most of the time, my father was tenderhearted. He wasn't sentimental in a syrupy sort of way, but he'd draw my attention to baby animals, especially horses, in a field we happened to drive by. I've mentioned a saddle he made for my fifth Christmas -- turns out, all those evenings he came home late that month were spent in the shop, preparing for Christmas morning. Under the tough cowboy, man-among-men, exterior, was a nice guy who wouldn't speak badly about a person unless they were severely deserving. And even then, he never seemed to enjoy it.

Had he lived at the same time as his grandfather, I think he would have been a town sheriff. He could restore order where there was chaos and people whose lives were chaotic seemed to find him, even before he became a minister. They found him like kids find me. His shop was an informal counseling suite where truth was often found lying among scraps of leather or dancing to the tune of the hammering racket of his industrial sewing machine.

Dad was good at picking up the pieces and helping others do likewise. Because of that, I don't think he'd have brought PTSD home with him, had he gone away to war. If he'd been older, if he'd had a slightly different background, I think he'd have gone into the chaplaincy or medicine. And if medicine, I think he'd have found his way to psychiatry. And if psychiatry, he'd have been a healer, since that's what he was anyway, and the scarred from war would have been his patients -- or his congregation.

Happy Memorial Day.
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