He often responded to a television news story featuring a windbag retired general taking in big bucks as a consultant, and forcefully say that “war is terrible, the worst experience of my life.” Proud of his service as a combat foot soldier in World War II, he served with honor under various commands, including a stint as an infantryman in George Patton’s 3rd U.S. Army in Europe.
He was awarded the Bronze Star, but never mentioned it.
|The Third U.S. Army|
Politicians, particularly serial draft dodgers lecturing voters about remembering veterans didn’t impress him. “The only ones who love war never fought in one,” he said. During my baby days in Atlanta, I would go through his footlocker where he kept his Army paraphernalia. His Eisenhower jacket with the famous 3rd Army shoulder patch was there. I’d put it on and it swallowed me. There were pamphlets explaining what to do if captured, like tell your captors nothing more than name, rank and serial number. There was a German to English translation handbook, a bunch of combat ribbons and some spellbinding photographs of him posing in uniform.
My soldier father was as handsome as Burt Lancaster or Montgomery Clift in “From Here to Eternity.”
Dad would open up about his war experiences a little more as he got older. He would describe the horror of the concentration camps, how the local German villagers lied about having knowledge even though the stench of death hovered over the countryside for miles. Many of his friends both in Atlanta and his retirement home in South Florida were Jewish. He would speak glowingly of his regular golf games with them. They embraced each other and the meaning of that brotherhood wasn’t lost on his family.
After Germany’s surrender, my father finished soldering as an MP in New Orleans. He loved to tell stories about removing drunken soldiers from French Quarter bars and brothels. He never arrested any, taking them in his jeep safely back to their barracks. He served as a bodyguard for an American hero, General Jonathan Wainwright, living with him in the penthouse of the New Orleans Roosevelt Hotel. I found the manifest a few years ago and photographed the rooms he shared with the General.
He died peacefully in his sleep in 2015. My friends remembered him as an elegant man. He was a son of the South, a devout Christian, a retired banker and a solid citizen. He took pride in his rural roots and didn’t mind one bit if you called him a country boy.
It’s time to visit the cemetery, mount the American flag he served under, place a bouquet of flowers, and say a prayer. Precious memories, how they linger.