In the last years of his life, my father wrote a series of emails to my oldest son, the oldest grandchild in the family. Dad copied me on his emails. He told me he would like for all of his grandchildren to read them when they became old enough to appreciate the stories. I assured him I would see to it.
The stories Dad wrote describe his experiences in World War II. They are not stories of combat, intrigue, high adventure, or tragedy. Instead, they tell about ordinary aspects of the life of a soldier. He wrote in a matter-of-fact tone, his voice pitched to a young reader, but aware that others might read as well. Only on further consideration does a reader appreciate the context in which a citizen-turned-soldier earned such stories.
Dad grew up going to the movies. They provided a major form of entertainment during the Great Depression. On Saturday afternoons in the 1930s Dad enjoyed cowboy westerns and space adventures and other action films. Each movie had a hero, and each story implied something about heroism. The concept of heroism Dad learned from the movies led him to title one of his WWII stories “Never A Hero.” He believed he didn’t do anything special during the war. I believe he was wrong.
What the movie heroes in the 1930s all had in common at the beginning of each film was an unsure outcome. The heroes proceeded with partial knowledge at best, and they encountered various perils. Most prevailed; some did not. They all accepted great risk. As my father and millions of his contemporaries embarked on periods of service in World War II, none of them knew the outcome of his or her experience, the peril they would face, or whether or not they would prevail. In the face of great risk and an unknown outcome, simply doing one’s duty is a form of heroism.
I saved each of the emails Dad sent to my son. To honor his wishes, I have shared them with his younger grandchildren. However instead of simply forwarding the emails, I compiled them into a book and have given a copy of the book to each grandchild. They can read it now, and again many years from now when they might have a different understanding of their grandfather’s role in one of the major events of the twentieth century. Whenever they read it, I hope they hear a familiar voice.
The book I compiled for Dad’s grandchildren may be of interest to others. A hardback version is available from the self-publishing site, Blurb.com, and a softcover edition is available on Amazon. Whether a reader knew my father or not, one who enjoys memoir, a description of life in the first half of twentieth century, or an inside account of enlisted army life in World War II might appreciate his story. I’m grateful he shared it.