Let me tell you about my Dad. He’s 90 years old today, in frail health and living his days out in a hospice.
He roots for his Red Sox and Patriots. His room is filled with pictures of his grandchildren and family.
My Dad served in the Third Infantry Division in World War Two. Yes, the same Division that drove into Iraq. He served in the North African Campaign when the Americans got their hat handed to them by the Germans. He invaded Anzio to liberate that country. As the landing craft approached the beach, Dad was concerned. Being all of Five foot Four he hoped they would get to the shallows. The cox wain of the boat said he’d get them so close Dad wouldn’t get his feet wet. When Dad went off the end of the LCI he dropped into six feet of water. Weighted down with his equipment, he started to drown. Shedding his gear,he fought to the surface and SWAM ashore. So much for Naval support he thought.
The Anzio landings were uncontested. There were no horrific scenes that you see in “Saving Private Ryan”. There was nothing. Silence. The day was filled with unseen heroics such as my Dad, fighting for his life.
The Third Division consolidated and strengthened their beach head and waited for the German counter attack. When it came it was ferocious.
Dad was leading a platoon that day. During the fighting, Dad was shot in the leg. A German medic saw him and started to work his way over to Dad. His squad laid down a barrage aimed at the medic. Dad shouted, “Cease Fire! Let the sonuvabitch live! He’s trying to help me.”
The German got to Dad and dressed his wounds. Saving Dad’s life. Dad then took him prisoner. Confiscating the German’s helmet, knife and pistol.
Dad was evacuated to North Africa. In a MASH they put pins in his leg. Pins that still give him hell on a cold day. During the surgery some Rear Area Echelon Mother Fucker stole the stuff he “liberated” from the German medic.
Dad loves to watch “MASH”. He says they are just as crazy (and worse) as they are in the show. He was hit in Korea too and woke up strapped to the skid of one of those helicopters. WHILE IT WAS IN THE AIR!
My Uncle Louis died in Italy. My Uncle Vincent was sleeping in his rack when a Japanese torpedo went through his compartment. He was never right again.
When I was a kid I rifled his underwear drawer looking for porn. What I found was a little black box. In it were two Purple hearts and a Silver Star. I know how he got the Purple Hearts, but he never talks about winning the Silver Star. The only thing he said when I asked was;
“I was too stupid not to fall back when everyone else did.”
I don’t know if he won it that day at Anzio. Maybe he won it in Korea. He’s quiet on that point. I know he cries almost every night and STILL has nightmares.
He’s 90 years old.
He and his fellow Vets are living out their lives in silence. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren never knowing of their quiet heroics. I know he was pissed over Vietnam. I knew he was horrified to send his son to Desert Storm. “Keep your head down. Don’t be a hero and come home soon.”, he said to me.
When I did come home the VFW had put a giant yellow ribbon all the way around Dad’s house. He took me to the VFW. Surrounded by the old Vets each one came up offered a beer and said just about the same thing. “Here, now you’re one of us.” I wasn’t regaled with stories of jumping from airplanes. No stories of tanks destroyed or beaches stormed. Just stories of how sweet Life is.
Postscript- My Dad died on August 16, 2006. Five days after his 91st birthday. If you have a relative or a friend who is a WWII vet, go talk to them today. They are America’s Greatest Generation and they are disappearing fast. Thank them before it’s too late.