My Dad is a World War II veteran. He served in the United States Navy for four years aboard the USS Leonard Wood after Pearl Harbor was bombed. One night at a soda shop with his buddies from his Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood, Dad heard about the bombing. The frantic news crackled over a radio. He remembers asking along with his friends, "Where's Pearl Harbor?" It probably sounded as foreign to them as Mars. Shortly thereafter, Dad left high school and enlisted. And so did just about every boy from his crowded melting pot neighborhood, many of whom never returned.
|USS Leonard Wood|
But that was Dad--impulsive, quietly determined, and always courageous. He never wanted special consideration, help of any kind, or even praise. He was never afraid to jump into the middle of a fray and do his part and more. He was also a man from very humble beginnings, grew up dirt-poor during the Depression, his parents didn't speak English, but he would tell you that he was no better or worse than anyone else. His parents emigrated from Italy in the early 1900's, penniless and uneducated, and they barely understood what was happening at that time. Of course, they didn't want their eldest son to go to war--any war--but Dad enlisted anyway. For the next four years, his family didn't know if Dad was alive or dead.
And my father would be mortified if he knew that I was posting this blog today, mostly because he'd argue that what he did was nothing more that thousands of others did, many of whom paid the ultimate price. But good thing for me, Dad thinks that Facebook is actually a book--like a dictionary or a bible--if he even knows what it is at all. :-) He's never touched a computer in his life. It's only been in the last decade that he's shared with us snippets from his service aboard that ship. I never remember him talking about the war when we were young, and he's never ever spent a second gloating or glamorizing it either. That would be so unlike him, if you knew my Dad.
I've tried to write down much of his story for safekeeping because his stories are both heartwarming and gut-wrenching. Landing in Sicily. Dancing with Hollywood actresses aboard his ship during a USO tour. The Pacific Theater. Kamikazes buzzing overhead. Thousands of dead soldiers floating in the ocean. I cannot believe what he endured, what he saw, the sacrifices he made. It's like the kinds of things that only happen in novels or movies, not to young boys in the prime of their lives.
And I share this with you today because I know that the days that I have left with both my Mom and Dad are probably measured in months, a couple more years, if we're lucky. Dad is no longer the tall, robust guy he once was. He doesn't eat much, he forgets things, he probably shouldn't drive anymore, but he does so anyway, no matter how much we beg him not to. The last thing in the world he'd ever want from anyone was pity or even help.
It comes as absolutely no surprise to me that Dad, Mom and the men and women from that time period are labeled The Greatest Generation but, somehow, that's not even a good description. I'm not sure there is a word that's worthy enough for them. But I thank God every day for having kept him safe during that war and my heart breaks for all the people who died and for the families that were destroyed. I also thank God every day for the remaining time that we have together.
So, forgive me if I get a little emotional when it comes to our Veterans and Veterans Day. Now you know why.
Happy Veteran's Day, Dad! And to all the other veterans and their families, thank you!