Today is Veteran’s Day, formerly known as Armistice Day. It is a day to remember Veterans of all of our wars, but I think mostly of my father on this day. He was a World War II veteran, somewhat older than most. He was almost thirty when he was drafted. He died 15 years ago this month. He was a service connected partially disabled Veteran.
He was fairly modest about his service. In many ways, he was well prepared for World War II. Because he had firearms training as a teenager, he scored Marksman in basic training with a prototype of the M-1 rifle. He scored very high in artillery targets. He was promoted early to Tech Sergeant. He was fluent in Latin and French and was proficient in Morse Code from working in a telegraph office. So, he was sent to Officer’s Candidate School, in preparation for the invasion of France.
But he didn’t last very long during the war. He was taken out of the war while on reconnaissance on August 8, 1944. What happened is difficult to recount because he was apparently the only one who survived the immediate event. There was an explosion. A truck in the convoy behind him went out of control and ran him over, breaking his leg in numerous places and knocking him out. He was patched up with stainless steel pins in his leg at a British Army Field Hospital and then sent home.
Often, we forget that it’s not just the gun fire and explosives that kill and cripple service men. They get diseases in unfamiliar parts of the world. They get into accidents, and are sometimes killed in training. Then there is the emotional trauma, which those of us children growing up in the 1950’s remember. The angry drinking binges, the screaming nightmares, and the sudden unprovoked rages.
I remember visiting a friend and we were watching a John Wayne war movie and his father came rushing out of his bedroom screaming and he shut off the television. He shouted, “I don’t want you watching that damned b.s. in my house.” This was a man who won a Silver Star.
I asked my father about it and he told me that there was no way for a movie to convey what war was like; the stench of death is like nothing you have experienced in your life and once you have experienced it you will never be the same. Once you have been in war, it will forever be part of you.
My father spent the rest of World War II in a cast in several hospitals. When he got out of the hospital, he spent the early postwar years as a limited duty Officer. I write about that story in my novel The Catrobat, which is dedicated to my father and mother.
I should note in passing that my Great Grandfather, Henry Charles Rollo, served as a 14 year old drummer boy in the Vermont Brigade during the Civil War. He too broke his leg … at the Battle of Gettysburg. Coincidence?
I wish to pay my respects to all of those who served and especially those who suffered, both in and out of combat.