Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Veteran

A "repost" from last Veteran's Day:

I'm thankful on this Veteran's Day for all the men and women who served in our military during peacetime and war. My uncle Robert was an Army Medic with the forces who stormed Normandy. I don't know all that he saw, but I know he gave me a Nazi blanket that he brought home after the war. He never talked about his service, and I never asked.

My cousin Raymond was a career Air Force man, retiring after more than 20 years, many of them during the Vietnam War. Thankfully he never had to go to Vietnam. Every time I asked him what his job was he told me he ran the bowling alley. I still don't know what he did, and I think that if he told me the truth he'd have to kill me. I'm glad I don't know.

My uncle Johnny was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the "day which will live in infamy" and was on his way to church when the bombs started dropping. He spent the rest of the war in the Pacific theater.

Which brings us to my dad. Roscoe Athens Berry joined the Army in late December 1941, after growing up poor in the northeast Georgia mountain town of Dahlonega. He was twenty-one years old.  While this was where America's first major gold rush happened, from pictures and handed-down stories I don't think my Dad saw any of that wealth. He grew up in the country, raised by self-sufficient parents, Miles and Pearl, who grew the vegetables and raised the livestock they survived on.

I've seen pictures of Daddy at Civilian Conservation Corps camps from Rock Eagle, Georgia to Wilmington, North Carolina. He looks young and skinny...not malnourished, but like James Taylor says, "soft as smoke and hard as nails". Life is in front of him and he looks up to the challenge.

Then comes the war.

Daddy went from Fort Bragg to San Francisco to Guam, the Phillipines, Guadacanal, Samoa, New Zealand, and Australia. He told me one time that if he could live anywhere else in the world it would be New Zealand (Mama used to tell me I might have some relatives there...I don't know).

He never talked about his experiences voluntarily. If I asked him specifics he'd tell me, in short answers, what happened. I asked him once if he ever saw anyone die. He told me about spending a silent night in a two-man foxhole only to find his partner dead of a slit throat when the sun came up the next morning. He wondered why the Japanese didn't kill him as well.

Dad came out of the Army with Sergeant's stripes as a part of the 82nd Airborne Division and stayed in the reserves for some time after that. I used to wear his dress uniform jacket and hat when I was four or five years old. I don't know when he got rid of it, but one day it was gone.

If my dad, and thousands like him, had not been willing to serve we wouldn't enjoy the freedom we have today. No wonder they're called the "greatest generation". They did what they had to do, without complaining or making a big deal out of their service. It was what we would call today a strong work ethic. It was what they called doing the right thing.

In this age of putrid self-glorification there are few people who would do what they did without wanting everyone to notice and praise them.

Daddy taught me about patriotism. When we'd have parades in my hometown and the flag would pass by, he'd stand at attention and put his hand over his heart. There were times I thought it was corny and old-fashioned.

Oh, to stand next to him one more time and salute the flag.

When Dad died we draped an American flag on his casket. It's still folded like it was the day Mr. Matt Haisten gave it to my Mama. My sweetheart framed it for me and it sits on the bookcase right next to Daddy's picture in his dress uniform, smiling confidently at the world.

Every day I want to live up to his example.

Every day I miss him.  And Uncle Robert, and Uncle Johnny.  But mostly him.

I didn't say it often enough when I could have.  And should have.

Thank you, Daddy. I love you.


bella said...

Thanks for sharing, Papi.
I love you.

Jenbug said...

Your dad would be SO honored to read from your heart to paper. YOU HONOR HIM!! And you honor me. I love you!