I always wondered why my father never spoke of his time in the Army. He spent four years in the Service during World War II and in addition to not talking about it he apparently kept no memorabilia of any kind. The whole thing was a complete mystery to me.
The short version is that he spent four years in Burma, one of the worst theatres of the war. I did what little research I could over the years as to where he was and what he was doing and it just sounds like an absolute hell on earth with no break–and certainly no ‘leave’ to speak of.
When he got off the boat in San Francisco in autumn of 1945, there was no parade or even welcome to speak of–all the celebrating had happened in the Summer after Germany had surrendered. Because by that point, Americans were mostly just exhausted and anxious to get on with life.
Here’s this poor kid at the dock, 23 years old, who volunteered because he was told that by not waiting a year to be drafted he’d get ‘better duty’. It’s 72 degrees, but he’s bundled up in a winter coat because he’s been living in a 100 degree jungle for four years and now he’s absolutely freezing.
So on the train back to his home base in Wisconsin, he got so disgusted he simply tossed everything except the clothes on his back out the window. In his view, yeah we won the war, but personally, it was no great ‘victory’. He felt unappreciated for all he had endured and to some degree that resentment probably never went away.
And I don’t blame him one bit. Frankly, he could be a distant guy. But knowing what I know now–things that he could never say? Just thinking about his story makes me choke up.
To one degree or another every person who serves comes back a different person. Going in, you never know what sacrifices you’ll be asked to make for your country–and that uncertainty must, in itself, be a weight.
If you or a loved one has served in the U.S. Military I want to thank you, most profoundly. May you always feel fully appreciated for your service to this nation.
Right now, people in Des Moines have divided opinions about most everything. But one thing I know we all agree on: gratitude and support for all Veterans.