courage, Father's, Father's Day, honor, responsibility, soldiers

Hell On Wheels

This is the map that chronicles the path that Patton’s army, my father’s unit, took during WW2.  The map made it home from the war before my father did.  My mother said that it cost her $12, a lot of money, to have it framed, and it was hanging on the wall when my father came home.

I loved the map as a kid, when I was too young to really understand what it represented. I used to point to the town in France where my father was shot, but not returned home since it was ‘only’ a shoulder wound.  I liked to trace the cross-shaped scar with my finger, another momento of the war that I didn’t fully understand.

When my mother was downsizing to move into senior housing she gave this map to me.  Then when she visited me she didn’t see it hanging on the wall and asked where it was.  So I took her to our dental office where it was prominently displayed in the waiting room.  She was proud to see it hanging there.  Lots of conversations were sparked by that map hanging there.  The image that is burned in my head though, is walking into the waiting room and seeing a little old man, a patient, standing on one of the wooden waiting room chairs facing the map, only a foot or so from it, studying it close up.

Another patient’s name was on a plaque at the neighborhood Catholic church honoring the local heroes who were killed in action during the war.  He actually was a POW and returned, but his name stayed on the plaque.

I’m remembering being at BWI airport in Baltimore when the passengers on an honor flight disembarked and entered the terminal.  Little elderly men in matching t-shirts, most being wheeled in wheelchairs powered by escorts also in matching t-shirts.  Everyone stopped, and clapped as they rolled by.  Tears flowed.  Little elderly men, the kind that you tolerate when they are telling you a long-winded story the details of which you didn’t grasp because you really weren’t paying attention, who saw things we of younger generations could not imagine.

My mother and I attended my son Michael’s graduation from Air Force boot camp quite a few years ago now..  We attended church with all the young, clean cut, beautiful, ‘kids’, who would take the place of those elderly former soldiers.  There was much hilarious teasing of the cadets who were in various stages of their training.  My mother and I laughed so hard we cried.  Then they asked for all the veterans in the church to stand up, and they did.  Some stood at attention in military uniforms having made a career out of serving our country, but they were far out numbered by the t-shirt wearing, pot-bellied, Dads, there to see their sons, and daughters too, be sworn in to serve their country.  Those young people leaped to their feet and cheered with all their might, honoring those men who served just as they were about to serve.  Now my mother and I were crying for real.

My father was the proverbial ‘nice guy’.  I loved him dearly, as did everyone who knew him. He never talked about the war, wasn’t much of a talker at all really.  But one thing he did say was that he’d really like to have a grandson named Mike.  Glad I gave you that Dad.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

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