Monday, May 30, 2005

MEMORIAL DAY FOR ME

On this Memorial Day, I want to write about a veteran, now dead, who is very much in my mind - my dad.



My dad didn't have an easy life. He was born in West Virginia, along the Ohio River. He always said that he wasn't a hillbilly, but from the Valley.

His father died on the job - he worked on the railroad. The cause was officially an accident, but friends and family members swore that he was shot for his union activity. It was 1929 when he left his wife and family of seven, a very bad time to exit this world. Only a few years later, his widow was forced to place her children (all but the 2 youngest) with relatives, due to the lack of money. Welfare officials were threatening to take all the children, and let them be adopted by people who could afford to take care of them.

My grandmother found a job, and worked for the rest of her life. She didn't retire until she was 82; she resisted it until then, when her health was failing.

My dad lived with various relatives - his grandparents on a farm (which led to a life-long determination NEVER to take up that occupation), his brother, Everett, who lived on a farm on a hill, and, later, after dropping out of school his freshman year, his sister in Cleveland. He liked the city, and stayed for the rest of his life in a urban environment.

When he was drafted about 6 months before Pearl Harbor, he viewed it as a short interruption in his life. Later, when he served in the European theater, he recognized that his brief experience may have saved his life, as he was able to get some experience with the military while not under the pressure of combat.

He was a dogface, slogging through rough ground in the rain, snow, and cold. He always said that his strongest feeling about the experience was that if he survived, he, like Scarlett O'Hara, would never be cold or hungry again. That vow he kept.

I seldom heard about his war experiences. He would occasionally tell funny stories:

  • About the time he was running late for dinner, and he took a shortcut across a minefield. For a short, skinny man, he could eat an unbelievable amount of food.
  • About the time he and a buddy, Red, took a farmhouse, and found SS uniforms - brown leather jackets, hats, etc. They amused themselves by trying them on, and playing around. They nearly got killed by their own troops, who found them, but didn't recognize them. Fortunately, Red was named for his hair, which the guys realized was unlikely to belong to a German. That hesitation in shooting saved them.
  • About the time he was written up for trying to start a union in the Army - he felt that the sergeants should pull guard duty, as well. According to him, it didn't bother him to go without a guard, if all of them weren't going to watch in their turn. "I can sleep easy, I have a clear conscience."
  • About the money he made playing poker. He was gifted in math, and had experience pre-war in Steubenville, OH, with gambling for fun and profit. Having seen the way he cleaned up at the weekly poker games when I was a kid, I could believe it. He specialized in taking advantage of people's prejudice against West Virginians; he played the wide-eyed pigeon very well - until he walked away with the majority of the money.

    Unfortunately, he was lousy at keeping his earnings. He spent freely in those days, and ended up broke at the end of the war.


My dad was discharged as a private. He had been promoted several times, but couldn't manage to submit to discipline. He would invariably find a way to flout the rules, and get reduced in rank. He just wasn't the kind of guy who was comfortable with being in charge. He preferred to be one of the guys, following orders.

That was true after the war, as well. He worked for Ohio Bell, and eventually rose to the top rank of craftsman. He attended school through the Bell system of training, and did well. Still, he never did again put himself in a position of leadership. He'd learned that it just wasn't his thing.

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