Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Trinkets and Treasures - No. 10

After my aunt Nina passed away this past November, her closest family members worked together to sort through her things and clear out her house. Her sister-in-law, my aunt Carol, found photos of my father and sent them to me and my sister. The photos, mostly from World War II, became instant treasures.

Early in 1943 my mother wrote this in my baby book: "Her daddy leaves for the army on Feb. 25th one day before she's 3 mos. old." Nobody knew then that the times he would spend with us after that would be short, sporadic, and often sorrowful.

In my father's later years, after we both made an effort to get better acquainted, he would talk very little about the war. When he did speak of it, he cried. I knew that the war had profoundly affected the man my father had become, but I knew almost nothing of the adventurous 19-year-old boy who had left home to fight it.

These photos my Aunt Carol sent helped me to see that side of him.

My father, Paul, second from left. The notation on the back of the photo reads, 
"This is one of our planes that had to make a crash landing near the front lines."


My father, at left front, smiling with his buddies.


My father, trying out the pilot's seat.


My father, left, obviously enjoying the experience.



My father, center, walking with his buddies
through the snow-covered streets of France.


My father, on the sled. Notation on the photo:
"These are French children."

It warmed my heart to see the above photos of my father, playful in the company of some of his "band of brothers." And then I came upon another photograph, one taken on a different day, and it chilled me to the bone.


Notation on back of photo identifies this group of people as "German prisoners."

Yes, I know they were our enemies, but they were boys, boys like my father and his buddies in the first six photos of this post, and I can imagine how frightened they must have been. 

When my father talked about the war nearly fifty years after it ended, he talked specifically about a face-to-face encounter he had with a German soldier as he rounded a corner in a shelled-out building. They made eye contact, my father told me, and the young German shouted only one word, one my father didn't understand, before my father shot him. Tears streamed down my father's face as he told me about learning later that that German word meant "please."

I am so grateful to Aunt Carol for sending these photos and to Aunt Nina for keeping them all these years. Somehow, seeing evidence that my father had some good days in the midst of the hellishness that is war gives me peace.

5 comments:

  1. these are indeed treasures, I know how you must have felt when you got them-like I did when I discovered my dad's WWII photos. I wish he'd have written things on the backs of them, though.

    I don't think your dad should have felt too bad about shooting that German, because he didn't know if the German would have shot HIM. War is hell.

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  2. This post resonates deeply for me. My dad served in Korea. Unfortunately he inherited the family propensity for alcoholism, and was a chronic, booze addled wreck when he came back. Men didn't talk about those things back then, so we have no idea what happened to him over there. They were expected to suck it up, be thankful they had lives and families to come home to and carry on. A lot could do it, some couldn't. Trying to silence it all landed him indigent with advanced dementia. He's in a veterans home now, and receiving excellent care. Ironically, this is the first time I've ever had a real relationship with him, and we both take comfort in each others company. He doesn't always know who I am, but I can live with that. I have so few pictures of him from those days. He never could stand still for a camera, so they're all that much more precious to me.

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  3. Sorry, that anonymous post above was me. Oops! Brain fart.

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  4. Velvet, What a gift these photos have brought you! Your father's story has pierced my heart. I'm lucky that all of my uncles and dad made it through that alive and except for one, relatively sane.

    It's interesting that I received a parcel of photos from my childhood the other day. I've learned so much about my father's family from a handful of photos....

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  5. Janet, what you say is true, and I know my dad understood, intellectually, that he had done what he needed to do. Somehow that knowledge never gave him much comfort.

    SDC, you're so right when you say that the veterans were expected to "suck it up." My grandfather saw thick action in WWI, yet I never heard him say a word about it in all the years I knew him. I'm glad you finally have a relationship with your father; that will become even more important to you after he's gone.

    Holly, I'm glad the photos you were given have filled in some blanks for you. Our lives are such puzzles sometimes, and it's great when something comes along to help us fit some pieces into place.

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