My father died over a decade ago. He held his secret for six decades.
My father was a World War II veteran – he was stationed in the Philippines when I was born. He enlisted in his 30’s without telling my Mother. My Dad didn’t have to serve – he was exempt. It was an honor to serve your country, a patriotic duty. I was conceived on a furlough.
My father came home from the war changed. To the day she died Mother never understand why he was withdrawn, uncommunicative, carrying resentments he seemed incapable of letting go. The spontaneous, communicative man she had been married to for over 10 years was missing.
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.
When Mom died Dad grieved deeply. And a man I had never met emerged: Bursting easily into tears; making friends with supermarket clerks who knew him by name; talking to babies in strollers; smiling and giving hugs. He talked to me, to strangers, to anyone who had a friendly listening ear. It was as if Mom’s death had liberated him.
He talked non-stop mostly about fond memories of his youth and early days of dating and marrying Mom, about his more humorous war experiences while I drove him to doctors appointments. His anger at General McArthur, decades later, still smoldering. His amusement stealing sirloin steaks from McArthur’s mess-camp, still delighting.
After hearing the same stories over and over I began to tune them out until one day driving to yet another doctor’s appointment he shared what still haunts me.
“I never told your Mother this . . . “, A tone in his voice I had never heard before startled me. “I didn’t want her to know,” he blurted out, “I killed a man . . . he came at me with a bayonet . . . I see his eyes . . . maybe he had a family . . .” Choking back sobs, Dad stopped talking.
A month later my father was hospitalized. I sat with him as he lay in panic, flashbacks from the war consuming him in terror, convinced the male nurses were there to kill him with guns and weapons only he saw. He was put in restraints because he became combative, fighting for his life in a war only he remembered.
Wars rip through this planet, leaving a trail of visible destruction. What isn’t visible is the destruction that rips its way through our psyches and souls.
“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