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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Veterans Day

[Dave from the wrong coast, that faithful reader and generous contributor to my sons’ musical education, asked me in the comments of yesterday’s blogpost to rerun the rather widely-read essay that I wrote about my father, in honor of Veterans Day. I can refuse Dave nothing, sorta, but I know Dave well enough to figure he, and others, might rather hear about my father’s sister instead. She’s gone to her reward now, which better be a big one.]

For Dorothy

 

They load them on the plane roughly, it seems to me. But that is the end of it. They are rough men with tender hearts steeled against their task. Leave them to us, now.

The men with wounds that won’t show later, except at the beach or to a lover, look sheepishly around them. Can you be ashamed to have all your parts? They look it. Their bandages are still pink, and they want to get up. Lie still. You’ve done nothing wrong.

I know many things about the inside of a man. I was trained to pull men whole from their mothers, like some Greek deity on a vase. They showed us the pictures in school of the parts meshing seamlessly, like a damp watch made by Einstein himself. When the doctors let us trail them around the hospital, finally, we saw the faces in the trim white beds whose watch ran a little fast, or slow, or made a bit of a whirring sound. What prepares you for the watch smashed, or plunged into the sea, or its hands pulled off? Nothing. The surgeons are in a hurry, always. I handed them the tools as they edit the men. They cannot write. It’s as if they are trying to see just what a man can lose, and still be a human man.

There are the bottles and pills and blankets to be attended to. Then I sit next to the worst of them, mummies still alive, lost to sight and sound. There is nothing to do but put my hand on their arm. It is the hand of every mother and wife and daughter and girlfriend and nurse and stranger I wield. Of every human woman that ever walked and talked. I know their face is just a smear on the back of the bandages, and it’s a long way to Okinawa. Let them feel our hand one more time.

[We also recommend you read our friend Gerard’s remembrance of his namesake uncle today: The Name in the Stone]

15 Responses

  1. Never knew much of what dad did in the army during WW2. He just did not talk about about it. Ever. on rare occasions he would get teary. There were some awards that hung above his chair. First infantry div.

    I got drafted. Infantry. Anti tank training, with a little foxtrot tossed in. Korea while the US was pulling out of Vietnam. To meet Korean people I only had to walk a few miles. Closer than that were people that I won't try to describe. When I got out into Korea, those there thought of Americans as only a couple of steps below the angels. It was kinda shocking that those who did not see us very often thought the most of us.

    After a stretch in Battalion S1 I became a legal clerk. One of the duties I was assigned to was reading the battalion records from WW2 and declassifying them. First of the thirty eighth. Second Infantry div right down from dads old outfit. Reading those old daily logs (And stamping and signing that there were no current secrets that prevented them from being seen) gave me a sense of some of what dad had been through.

    In a different battalion dad came in on the third wave on Omaha beach. He was in the breakout to Cherbourg. The drive across France in the first Infantry, third army under Patton. Dad was in the relieving forces that broke through at the battle of the bulge, where he got his silver star and fourth purple heart, and a second battle star to go along with the arrowhead from d day.

    Some of this I put together later. When I got back to the world dad urged me to join the American legion. None of these old guys would talk about themselves but would tell me about what a hero that guy over there was. Dad picked three more purple hearts later in life but would not talk about those either. The people he worked with were harder to find as well.

    One Christmas, after a 12 hour midnight shift I got home and called my parents to wish them a merry Christmas. I called mom first because dad was in intensive care. After wishing mom a merry Christmas and visiting a few minutes, I told her I was going to call dad next. She told me to wait a few so she could get over there and get the phone.

    I called and mom answered and told dad it was me, and put the phone next to his ear. I wished dad a merry Christmas and told him I was looking forward to seeing him in paradise. Mom got back on the phone and told me to tell him again whatever I told him the first time. I told dad I was looking forward to seeing him in paradise. I could hear the sigh and soft smile.

    Dad passed away later that day, I am grateful that I was living my life in such a way that I was able to hear and respond to the urge to call dad, and even more for the quite assurance that we will see each other again.

  2. tmoore, what a great story! Made my day. My daddy was a recon photographer mapping China from the bomb bay of a modified B-24.

  3. That last paragraph is the most awful thing that every you have written.

    I mean that in the old-school meaning, "something that inspires awe".

    I wonder at why men war, other than for women. There doesn't seem much reason for it, given that the loss is so great, and the gain so temporary.

  4. Casey, Mr. Sippi's talent goes all the way down to wherever down is. You got it right.

    Magnificent piece of writing, Mr. Sippi!

  5. Casey, Mr. Sippi's talent goes all the way down to wherever down is. You got it right.

    Magnificent piece of writing, Mr. Sippi!

  6. Please listen to this.

    Ask your war veteran just 2 questions. These are smart questions, and if he answers them, he (yes, and she, as depicted in this article) will probably let on some more. You may get an earful.

    #1. Where did you go? #2. What was your job?

  7. Probably one of the most beautiful sounds in my life was the flight nurse's voice coming through my cloud of morphine on the medevac flight to Germany.

    Thanks.

  8. I read my comment again. What it probably should have said is, no thanks to us is necessary, but rather thanks to you for your sacrifice, service and faithfulness.

  9. My dad didn’t come home with the other fathers. Mom said we had to wait for him to get out of the hospital in Holland. I remember him getting off that train–he picked me up and hugged me. That was the first time we met.

    A few days later we were walking downtown when a car backfired and suddenly my daddy was laying in the street tucked up close to the curb with his face buried into the curb. Hands over his head. That happened almost every time a car made that booming sound those old cars used to make. There was one night I heard my mother screaming and I tiptoed down the hall and peaked into the bedroom. Dad was standing on the bed with his bayonet in his hand.

    One of the first things dad did was to enroll me in ballet school. I remember him sitting there with the moms-he was the only father there. On Wednesdays, he would take me out to the park where a small music group played in the garden pavilion. That Christmas I woke up to a small train set traveling down the hall and around the base of the toilet. A tiny little live kitty sitting in the middle of the hall. He would hold me in his lap and read poetry to me. And, then he was gone. They divorced. I am told that he married again and had six kids.

    A long time later I found an old newspaper clipping from that time. Dad had been one of the fathers who sued the court to get custody of his daughter–he had tried to hold on to me.

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