Monday, May 28, 2012

2012 - Memorial Day for WW II and 'Nam


Here we are again - Memorial day and remembering our war dead (KIA), missing in action (MIA), and those who returned home alive but still were MIA to their families.  My father and uncle were like that.  My dad was a WW II vet who was a First Sgt (Master Sgt with the star in the middle) in the 1st Special Service Forces (predecessor to the Green Berets) who landed at Anzio beach and fought their way to Europe through Italy through the Alps and some of the bloodiest fighting that was rarely reported except for that bit about the mountains and the chapel on top full of Germans.  The Force (as it was called then) was one of the US Army's first attempts at commando operations.  It was the ONLY outfit that never lost an inch of ground, regardless of what General Patton claimed.  And they paid for it heavily.  Only about 10% of the initial outfit that went to war returned home, my dad being one of them.

And there lots of kids like us.  Our dads came home from war and they were lost to us for many years.  We didn't know what happened and they wouldn't talk about it to us.  They didn't know how to tell about the horror of it without bringing the nightmares back or sounding like a grave digger.  You just didn't do that kind of thing in those days.  So my younger brother (15 months younger than myself) and I spent our youth not talking with our dad except that he had the theory that children should be seen and not heard.  We worked in the one-acre garden after school every day and all summer after summer-school.  We went to summer-school to get away from  the house.

My uncle wasn't much better.  He was in the 82nd Airborne and made all five jumps in WW II.  He met up with my dad in London after the war, exchanged phone numbers and got together in Alabama after the war.  He ended up marrying my dad's oldest sister.  Both of them used to talk about the war to each other but not to the kids or the wives.  During the war, their rations were packed with Lucky Strike's or Camel cigarettes and they were encouraged to smoke because, supposedly, it calmed the nerves.  It also led to cancer and other lung problems for both of them.  The other war problems were mental and loss of family but, by at that time, the army just didn't seem to know or care about those things.  The children became the biggest loss of that age.

During the rest of those years, the children grew up and in the late 50's and early 60's joined the armed forces in the early Viet Nam War during the "Consulting" days of the Viet Nam War.  That was when we were there but we weren't there in an official capacity.  My brother was in Cambodia in a remote outpost that could have been overrun at any time while I served my time in what was an effectively remote outpost in West Texas.  Using long-range radar we watched the southern border and the Gulf of Mexico for invading Russian aircraft that never showed up.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was about as close as I got to the actual shooting war.

But, the thing was, both my middle brother and I never did get close to our father until after my middle brother was killed in an auto accident in 1968.  After that, slowly, my father softened and allowed my younger brother (12 years younger than myself) and I to talk with him about things but still not about the war until just before his death in 1988.  I inherited his war papers, medals, etc, and discovered that he had effectively earned, among a lot of other stuff, five bronze stars during WW II for combat during his war time in Italy.  Five!  Three bronze stars, two with an extra star on them for the same action making it effectively five bronze stars.  And he never once mentioned them to us.  He just couldn't talk about them to us.  Only with his buddies from the war or to Uncle Bill from the 82nd Airborne.

And, now, every memorial day I remember him and Uncle Bill and wonder what it would have been like if we had had programs something like the programs today back then.  Maybe we would have had a dad with whom we could have talked and been friends.  Maybe...  Maybe not...  That was a really bad war, just like Nam and Korea.  No bullet-proof vests and only tin-pot helmets.  Lots of dead guys left and right.  And the guilt feelings that you could never explain to your family and friends back home.  And now you know the rest of the story about the "Lost Generation" of WW II.