Often it is an event or an anniversary that will prompt me to seat down to write. Next week it will be two years since my father died. With the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima I’ve thought a lot about my dad’s life journey as a WWII veteran and how that affected our whole family.
Nothing can prepare you for that phone call that tells you your father has died. I doesn’t matter if one is six or fifty-six it is your daddy that is now gone. My eighty-nine year old father had been in hospice for months with non-Hodgins Lymphoma. I knew this call would be coming at some point, but that August morning my brother called I was so surprised to hear his voice. Dad had rallied as of late. He had gobbled down cake and ice cream on his birthday just weeks before.
My father was born in 1924. He told me how he and his farm brothers used to swap Grandma’s homemade bread with the “town kids” who got commodities bread during the depression. I found that humorous and wondered what Grandma would have done had she known.
At age seventeen he joined the Marines and went off to fight in WWII, just as his three other brothers also did. When he was twenty-one he took part in the invasion of Iwo Jima. He always said they were there a month before that flag was raised. Daddy was haunted by that battle for the rest of his life. It was only when my own son reached that same age did it hit me just how young dad had been when he saw the horrors of World War II.
My father’s generation didn’t know how to process all that grief and terror they experienced at such a young age. They didn’t talk about it. No one helped them deal with it. My Uncle Norbert, who was older in the family, never came home from the war. It wasn’t until my dad’s 85th birthday that he said, “My dad was never the same after Norbert died”. That statement explained so much about Grandpa’s behavior when I was a child.
It wasn’t just my dad, but all the men around him who seemed to be dealing with some unspoken sorrow. They all worked too hard and drank too much trying to forget what they had seen. As children and teenagers we didn’t understand it, but as an adult I began to recognize the demons my dad was fighting. I knew what PTSD was and how it affected people.
He softened a lot as he aged. One suspected he saw himself as gifted just to have lived to see his grandchildren and great grandchildren. It was as though he entered some kind of a liminal space in those last months when we all knew he was dying. He became tender and sweet, grateful for everything that was done for him. The morning he died he told my mother, “I’m going to die today”. We’ve always wondered how he knew because in his last hours he was too sick to explain what he saw to know this. In the end we sensed he was relieved of all that had troubled him, and with that we could peacefully say good-bye. Semper Fi Daddy!