Verteran’s Day – Secrets of My Father

Blood of our fathers

devastates mind-body-soul

For peace or for war?

My father died 10 years ago. I have held his secret for one decade.  My Father held his secret 6 decades.

Dad was a WW II veteran.  He enlisted in the army even though he was exempt from serving. After he returned from service in the Philippines Mom said he had changed from the spontaneous, communicative man she had married.

The father I knew didn’t talk,  he did things – built rooms, repaired cars, fixed leaks, upholstered furniture. He was incredibly handy, always busy doing, never talking. The father I knew was taciturn and downright anti-social at times.

After my mother died Dad began to talk.  He talked non-stop, mostly about fond memories of his youth and early days of dating and marrying Mom. He talked to me, to strangers, to anyone who had a friendly listening ear.

Only when I was driving, both of us looking straight ahead,  did he talk of regrets or sorrows . . . He needn’t look at me and I couldn’t look at him.

One ride I will never forget, his tone changed. “I never told your Mother . . .”, a tone I had never heard in his voice before . . . “I killed a man in the Philippines.  I still see his eyes.”  Startled,  I turned to see tears running down his cheeks.  “I think about that man having a family . . .”, choking back sobs, he stopped talking.

Flower holder in my VW with poppies

Flower holder in my VW with poppies

Monday was Veterans’ day.  Outside the market The Veterans of Foreign Wars were handing out poppies.  I took one and slipped $5.00 into the donation can – one dollar for every year my father continued to keep his secret kept after Mom died.

A typhoon just ripped its way through the Philippine islands yesterday leaving a trail of visible destruction. There are too many destructive events in this world that rip their way secretively through our psyche and soul.

To read my post about my Dad, my VW & me and an explanation of the significance of the poppy for veterans click here 

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below”.

“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw”

“The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields”.

“In Flanders Fields” written in 1915 by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian forces 

16 comments on “Verteran’s Day – Secrets of My Father

  1. I remember one night my father and I were sitting in the living room talking….something we rarely did. I had just had a report where I interviewed a veteran from WWII, and was telling him about it. He started talking a little bit about his time in Korea. I asked a few questions. He was on a submarine, so he never had to see the enemy face to face, but he talked about a certain ship where they bombed it and it really hit him how many people just ceased to exist afterward. He got quiet after that.
    I also remember, seeing photos and one trip where my father left he had his red/brown hair…when he returned it was white in front. He woke one morning to water running in the submarine, it frightened him so much, his hair turned white. He always had headaches after the war…until my mother died, then he started going to reunions for the ships he’d been on, I think getting together with those men really helped him, I noticed the headaches stopped and he didn’t seem to be as mad all the time. (I was never close to my father because of his extreme anger and mood swings, He also came back from the war a drinker, and to this day he’s still drinking even though he has liver problems)
    I do remember my mother telling me that my father never told her anything about the war, I said, did you ask? She said, she thought he would tell her if he was ready. I asked. I know if he had not been ready or willing he would have gotten all huffy and told me it was none of my business…but he seemed like he wanted to talk, so I just listened.
    Sometimes, I think people need to be asked, if they aren’t ready to talk, they will let you know, but if they are….it can change so much. I also think veterans often think people don’t want to know, so they keep it in, long after they want to let it out.

    My great uncle was in WWII, he was a POW. He never talked about it…at least not that I know of…but he would not eat potatoes when he returned. That’s all they gave him to eat in the prison camp. He was lucky, he was captured close to the end of the war, and was send to a relatively “good” camp, by this I mean not as much torture as there was in many. He also had to constantly be building and doing something. But he was a good natured man, he may have found his release elsewhere, but I never felt like his time changed him as much as it did my father, except for the potatoes. Of course, I didn’t know him before the war, but I can’t imagine a more gentle soul.

    Thank you for sharing the story about your father. War changes all of us, even those who never served, if we have a loved one who has, our lives are not the same. I feel so much for those who are haunted by the terrors they have seen….and been forced to do.


    • Wendy,
      It is remarkable the number of people who have told me that their father or relative who was in WW II or the Korean War came back changed and never talked about their experiences. I guess if anything good came out of the Viet Nam war it was the Viet Nam veterans’ sacrifice for all future generations bringing to light PTSD.

      I won’t live to see a united peaceful world but I believe it will happen. In the meantime generation upon generation, just as you indicated, are impacted by war without ever knowing it.

      Thanks so much for sharing your family experiences.


  2. Judith,
    Thank you for sharing you Dad’s and your story about WWII.

    As a nurse, I have cared for many veterans of WWII, have friends that were active duty in WW II… and the the other wars, since then. Many…most, do not talk of what they saw or happened when they were “away”. I have one friend who when I, on a Veteran’s day many years ago, thanked him for his service in WWII said, no one ever does that.

    Since then, I noticed that he, and other male friends of the same generation who served, will sometimes mention being in THE WAR. My friend will talk about his service sometimes, when we are alone… how terrible it was on a battle ship. And the losses that people don’t think about… the perception that unless a ship went down in battle, they didn’t have casualties.

    I met/cared for, a man, who when he returned from the war, never left the house. The town assumed he had died. Then one day, who ever was carry for him died, and they found him. A kind man. He settled into the nursing home life. Said little. I won’t go on and on… for I have so many memories of caring for veteran’s … I can’t imagine what they went thru. What a wonderful post /tribute you have written. It will start dialogues in families I’m sure.

    Thank you.


  3. My Grandfather was like that. I am sure for the same reason.He never told anyone anything about the war. My husband’s father was like that too. There must have been so many of them. They came back home and the next day put on a suit and tie, and went to the office . How surreal is that ! They are all gone now. They suffered in silence because that was expected of them. The consequences of wars progress through the generations leaving a lasting legacy of pain to all the family.


    • Rallentanda,
      The only thing I can add to your last sentence “The consequences of wars progress through the generations leaving a lasting legacy of pain to all the family.” is that the legacy is passed to all of mankind.

      Thank you so much for so beautifully and simply putting it all into words.


  4. Such a timely and touching essay. It breaks my heart at remembrance day services to see so many old men in uniform, medals meticulously shined upon on their chests, to imagine the horror that they lived through as very young men. Some, like my two uncles killed overseas, were young farmboys who lied about their age so they could enlist, eager to head off on the exciting adventure of soldiering. What did they know of danger or patriotism or reality?

    When survivors returned after enduring years of unspeakably traumatic experiences, few could speak about what they’d seen or heard or done. Nobody knew about post-traumatic stress disorder then – it was the Vietnam vets who were committing suicide in unprecedented numbers that brought that diagnosis into our consciousness. Until then, generations of those in military service were expected to just come home and somehow be “normal” again in spite of their pain.

    Thanks for bringing your personal perspective on your Dad’s story to us.


  5. My dad served in the Philippines as well. Last week I found a scrapbook my mom put together in the 30s and 40s … it was nice to see a smiling woman and man. They looked so happy early on. With this scrap book was my dad’s Navy scrapbook … included were photos of my dad in the service (Navy). There were a few photos from Easter 1945 — I surmise my dad had just arrived from San Francisco. In quick research I discovered a major battle occurred one week later. The photos of my dad from then on — showed the change in his demeanor and his eyes. The dad I knew and loved dearly was not the man from those earlier years … those years ripe with hopes and dreams. My dad never spoke of his years in the Philippines. In his last few days when he was talking in his sleep he moved his hands a lot and talked about things that did not make sense — when I mentioned to my mom (they were divorced) she said he was referring to his time overseas. I never had a chance to inquire. May your dad be resting in peace, as I hope mine is as well.


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