Sunday, May 27, 2007

Our Father Hardly Ever Talked

Posted by olvlzl.
Our father hardly ever talked about being in battle as a marine during the Second World War. Hardly anyone I’ve known who was in combat talked about it. The ones who did were usually drunk. He did tell me once that he knew he had killed three men. Though he knew they would have killed him and that they were part of one of the most murderous invading armies in history, he regretted having to kill them. When he was 23 our father was hit by a fragment of a mortar shell and almost died. His wounds left him entirely blind, somewhat deaf and with loss of some function in his arm. That made him the target of job discrimination.

In tandem with the discrimination, his disability also marked him in our area as a “war hero”. We grew up with our father being a war hero as part of our background music. I remember someone being scandalized when, as a teenager, I whined about how unreasonable he could be. “But he’s a blind man!,” was the stunned reaction. A war hero is just your father when that’s what he is and you’re still a teenager. His presence at Memorial Day parades was expected and prominent. Going against stereotype, he and my mother were and remained very liberal. Roosevelt Democrats, and more Eleanor than Franklin at that. He despised Oliver North for hiding behind his uniform and accepting immunity. As a marine, he hated MacArthur. He never encouraged any of us to enlist.

When he was in his sixties my father started having problems with his liver. The doctors couldn’t find anything specific but the markers in his blood weren’t good. The symptoms made it necessary for him to spend most of his last year in the hospital. Finally they diagnosed cancer of the liver and they sent him home after arranging an appointment with an oncologist. About the same time they tested him for hepatitis C, the test was positive. Going over his medical history they figured out that he must have gotten it when he was given a blood transfusion at the field hospital after he got hit 45 years earlier. They didn’t know about hepatitis C back then, no other explanation was ever found. He died the next week. The dying goes on a long time after the treaty is signed.

P.S. Something else. I never heard him say "semper fi", not even to other marines.