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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tribute to a Fallen Warrior

Memorial Day
It is not enough to pray "Thy kingdom come", but to work so that the Kingdom of God will exist among us today. - Saint Ursula Ledochowska (1865-1939)
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I think this is an emotional weekend for me. I miss my cat, I miss my friends and the family I used to have and I miss my Dad.
He was not a very good Dad. He was loud and profane and had a tendency to violence. My father was not a moral man. I cannot say he was an alcoholic but we have an old saying in my 12 step program - if it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, there is a damn good chance it is a duck and my father quacked a lot.
My father joined the Army shortly after Dec 7, 1941. He was 15 years old and trying desperately to get away from an abusive home. He was subject to beatings and depravation known only to those who lived in the Southwest during the Depression. He had been shipped from Texas to California by my Grandmother in a desperate attempt to 'straighten him out' by having him live with his father - who was also a drunk. Great choice, Nana. Well, we do the best we can with what we have at the time I guess and my grandmother would hardly be the first woman to toss her kid over a fence filled with starving pit bulls in order to keep her man happy.
Dad ended up back in Texas and miserable - a giant child (6'4" tall at age 15 but weighed about 120 pounds - the man would stand sideways, stick out his tongue and he would look like a zipper). He demanded my grandmother allow him to join the army - and then, about 6 months into it he realized that he was going to be sent somewhere and people he did not know would be shooting at him....and he started writing to her, begging her to get him out. She did not. He ended up in the First Alaskan Scouts, shipped to the Aleutian Islands and participated in the only battles fought on American Soil. Dad often said it was pretty lousy American Soil but it was American Soil....and so they fought, in the battle of Kiska and Attu. They fought in the kind of bitter cold only seals and Kodiak Bears endured. They fought to stand stills and they fought man to man and he, at the age of 17, would lead forays into the area and flush out Japanese soldiers hiding in caves.
My father came home from WWII horribly damaged - but back in those days, to admit that one was damaged by combat meant one was weak and cowardly. My girlfriend, Rose, said her father returned from the European Theater and buried his uniform in the back yard - he refused to ever speak of what he saw or did. Later, when he died, she found that he had been part of the liberating forces that were met by the walking dead of Dachau. She understood why her father would never allow a racial or ethnic slur to be spoken in his presence until the day he died.
My uncles, who were all fighting on Guadalcanal while their mother (an Italian national) was kicked out of her home and put into a relocation camp (why, yes...the US government had them for Italians too! Surprise!), found themselves unable to ever sleep in total quiet once they got back from the War. They had to have some sort of low, humming sound in the background....because, as my Uncle Bruno said, "I wake up and don't hear anything and I think I am dead...."
My father tried. He married, had a daughter and that marriage fell apart. They were too young. He met my mother...married and fought for custody of that daughter by lost. It killed him. He became a Catholic, had another daughter and tried and tried and tried to be a moral, loving man. It was not in him and whether that was because of the War or the horrors of his childhood none of us will ever really know. He found out he was going to have another child and he left my mother to be with a woman half his age....and their marriage, while it lasted for 35 years, was fraught with drama: liquor-fueled combat, tearful phone calls to my mom in the middle of the night begging her to take him back, accusations of infidelity on both parts, anger anger anger....my brother and I were on the receiving end of a lot of crap from him that we kept from our Mother. We did it because she was trying to keep our bodies and souls together, and we knew there was nothing she could do to change him. I protected my brother from beatings - termed 'spankings' by my Dad - that would usually be administered when he had had a few too many shots of Jack Daniels and done when my mother was at work....Dad would want to beat his little boy, but if I stepped between them he would just berate me. I was his daughter....and he knew not to lay his hand on a girl. Unless it was his new, drunken wife....

What a sad sad man.

But not everything about my father was awful. Did you know he was the only one in my family who loved history? He would wander cemeteries with me for hours and he was the only person I could ever call in the middle of the night about something on television or something I was reading that was about ancient or modern history. He would call me every time the movie The Thing was on - the original, not that dopey remake by John Carpenter - or Zulu. When John Wayne died, my friends from college called me and told me they were not afraid for America because afterall, John Shaw was still alive.

He loved animals - though he was rougher on his dogs than I think he should have been - and he came to every single dog show I competed in with Roddy. He was so proud of my accomplishments with that dog !He used to tell his friends that I was the only person he knew who had been able to train a Scottish Terrier in obedience AND win blue ribbons for it.
Dad was very strong. He had to work because his cancer and his hip replacement had made retirement impossible. Because he had been one of the early supporters of Mr. Raley when he was trying to start a grocery store, Joyce (the present CEO) never let my Dad go without an order of some kind. She was an angel to him and I will be forever grateful.

At the end of his life, this man with 3 (that we know of) children had a relationship with only one - me. I had that relationship with him because of the teachings of my Catholic Faith and what I had learned about the necessity of forgiveness and service in my 12 Step program. I was the only child he knew would come to get him at 1:00am if he had to go to the doctor, or would help him take care of his 92 year old mother-in-law who insisted I was not really his daughter because my eyes are black instead of brown. She also thought I was too fat and would tell me that at the top of her lungs whenever he was out of earshot - but never in front of him. He would not have stood for that - and that was nice, after all the years of having to forgive and over look and pray and wish he was someone different. Before my eyes, time was doing what no human power could have ever done.

I talked to my Dad the night before he died. Ten days earlier he had had by-pass surgery and come through like a trouper. He had also gone to Confession and received the Eucharist for the first time in 40 years. I don't know if it would have 'took' in the classic sense that he would have continued to attend Mass or if he would have done what he usually did when the emotions of the moment wore off - baled out of boredom. But the night before he died I was able to say, "Love you, Dad...see you in the morning!" knowing that he was fully in the arms of the Holy Mother Church. I will always regret that I did not stop by on my way home from work that night but I was too tired. Today, even when I am tired, I take the time to connect to at least one friend or family member. It may be the last time they hear my voice or see my face - and the last time I get to give them a kiss.

The next morning, I dropped by with an ice pack for his knee (it was bothering him). He had gotten up and made coffee for me to have with him before I went to work. He had laid back down in bed, and he had died. I found him. I called 911. I called my family. I called AA.

Guess who got there first?

My father was not really a good man - as I said, he was immoral and violent and mean as only a Texas Irishman can be - but he was a man who tried to do the right thing whenever the wrong thing blew up in his face. He served his country and he tried to make it in the world, unsure of what to do with his flaws and his fears. Today, I will take flowers to his grave and I will say a prayer and I will thank God that I got to know a man like him.

He wasn't perfect, but he was definitely a member of the Greatest Generation.

May his soul, and the souls of all those who have given their all to protect our country from all enemies, domestic and foreign, through the mercy of God....
Rest in Peace.

1 comment:

Christine said...

I am sure your Dad would be very proud of you Leslie. And I hope through all your suffering he has obtained Eternal peace.