My dad served in WWII. He was in the Navy and part of clean up crews on beaches like Okinawa, where body parts would turn up when bulldozers swept across the sands. I think he was a Seabee, but I’m not sure. Dad didn’t talk about his time in the service. He was a country boy from Texas where the most brutal thing he encountered was pulling a cotton sack and doing farm work. He didn’t want to talk about the war or to relive finding all those body parts.
When he was discharged, we were in Phoenix, Ariz., with my grandparents (Dad’s folks), and from all accounts I wasn’t too happy when this interloper showed up. I was born when he was overseas. By the time he arrived in my life my older brother, my mom, and I were a happy little family. Right away he started taking up Mom’s valuable time leaving less for us. Reportedly at about age two I said I hoped the neighbor’s house he’d just walked into would burn down with him in it. I’m repeating what I was told, I certainly don’t recall saying that.
My father suffered from bouts of depression most of his adult life. Friends and co-workers never knew that. He kept it bottled up. He did have a short fuse, but he never took his anger out on any of us. I wonder now if he had undiagnosed PTSD. Back then that wasn’t even a point of discussion. Man up, get back to work, earn a living, support your family. No crying! Men don’t cry! Except that he did, in the silence of our home and only in the presence of my mother. But, as he used to say, little pitchers have big ears, and at least once I heard him.
There are no pictures of Dad in his Navy uniform, or mementos of his years away from family and familiar surroundings. There is one photo of him and his brother with their heads together showing them in Navy garb, their sailor hats at a jaunty angle. I have looked high and low for that photo and cannot find it. Dad’s younger brother joined the Navy not long after Dad did. I think in his naivete he believed they would be serving together. That didn’t happen.
Until she got pregnant with me, Mom was a Rosie the Riveter, or at least she worked in the shipyards. One toddler – my brother – and another baby on the way sent her home to Arizona to live with family.
I’m proud of my dad’s service, and my mom’s as well. They did what they thought was right. Both were patriotic to the core. When my dad returned home, there was no fanfare, flag waving, or banners. It was just us – reunited strangers who became a family. My dad called me his princess, and I thought there was no one braver, stronger, or more faithful. As a man he stood for what he believed in. As a father, he taught us kids right from wrong and loved us with every fiber of his being.
I don’t know what heroes are made of, but I do know Dad was my mine. I wish I had let him know that more often.
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