If the weather had been better 75 years ago, yesterday would have been the anniversary of D-Day. [The D stands for “day.”] Instead, it was the Golden Anniversary of my husband flunking his draft physical. He did nothing to deserve this, but each year he celebrates his fortune in being spared Vietnam.
This is not about to become a blasting of veterans. Many of my favorite people—my father, Aunt Marcie, Jim Fukano—are veterans. Jim even served in that war that Gary escaped and remains in touch with the men he served with. Most of his older relatives spent WW2 in concentration camps right here in the U.S. Like my father he died not talk much about his wartime experiences. Despite humorous tales of K-rations and long marches, I know my father saw horrible things. My mother said the war, as it inevitably does for any soldier seeing combat, damaged him. My father, if he was within hearing when she said such things, would say he would never have found his wife, married, had the life he enjoyed if not for the war. There would be a moment of standoff. “Art—” my mother would begin.
Gary says “there is a certain amount of [both] happiness and guilt associated with my celebration.” Neither of us heard glamorous stories about the war, but our parents met as result of service to their country. That generation was irrevocably changed by the experiences growing up in the Great Depression and living through the war.
We have Ernie Pyle’s books recording the war in the house. My father, like many servicemen, admired Pyle who reported from Europe and then from Japan. The New York Times has a feature today about the war reporter who, according the Truman, “told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told.”
“Until D-Day, war had largely been an exhilarating experience for Pyle, terrible but often uplifting. Ten days after the landings, the awfulness of all the death he was witnessing in the ‘thousands of little skirmishes’ in the hedgerow country of Normandy was carving away at his mental state. He reported having knots in his stomach from ‘constant tenseness and lack of sleep.’ In a letter back home, he confided that he had to ‘continually fight an inner depression over the ghastliness of it all.’ ‘Sometimes,’ he wrote to Miller on June 29, ‘I get so obsessed with the tragedy and horror of seeing dead men that I can hardly stand it. But I guess there’s nothing to do but keep going.’ “
We found glass on the shore yesterday morning, then hung house-letters to distinguish each of our tenants’ front door as well as our own doorbell. Someday I will address the awkwardness of entering our house through the garage to the atrium and then to the front door. Some day.
We had friends, Becky and Mark, over for dinner, a late dinner for us because they are both working and could not get here till going on seven. Clams and huckleberry cake were the highlights in food, but the talk nourished, our shared hopes and dreams. Food for the heart.
Then this morning, an email overview of top stories in TNYT, “Their Fathers Never Spoke of the War, Their Children Want to Know Why”:
“Less than 3 percent of the 16 million American veterans of the [Second World War] are still alive, and all are in their 90s or beyond. Now their relatives are often turning to experts to help them decipher billions of pages of military records to piece those stories together.
” ‘Sometimes they start to cry on the phone about how much they loved their dad, and how he had horrible nightmares, but would never talk about it,’ one researcher said.”
My father would be 94 this November. That seems remarkably old, but members of his family mostly did live into their nineties. If lung cancer had not taken him in his sixties, he might well be alive today.
I meant this post to be cheerful, but the truth is that contemplating war always brings tears. I write with the morning chorus of birds outside my window, a celebration of another key. I cry for the waste, the suffering and misguided determination that does not end, for the 20,000 attacks on Yemen by Saudi Arabia in the last few years (mostly using planes and bombs from the U.S. and Britain), for anger that pushes us from principle to spite, for determined vengeance and retribution, and for pursuit of power that so often perverts and perpetuates this monstrous suffering.
I wonder when we might learn to settle differences some other way that does not give nightmares.