Wednesday, January 12, 2011

French Marble

I read today that Richard Winters had passed away Jan.2nd, 2011. He lived to a grand age of 92. He evokes in me memories of so many men that I crossed paths with in my youth.  My own Dad flew over 50 missions in an unarmed night reconnaissance B26 during the Korean War. It wasn't a conflict, 53 thousand souls were lost there... that is a war. His flights took him over industrial targets, railroads, bridges, supply lines, fighter air bases all the way up to the Chinese border. His little black aircraft hummed along on twin engines, and when they came to their target, they dropped blinding flash bombs to illuminate the target for photographs. They would swoop in and take their pictures and then "rack'em  up" and roll out of the target area. Luckily, the North Koreans, or Chinese were not very good with flood lights and the primitive radar they may have had. Lucky because Dad lived to make it home and well, here I am.

Richard, or Dick as he was better known to others as, he was made famous in the early 1990's with the HBO series, "Band of Brothers." Starting with  dropping out of the sky over France on D-Day to his assault on Brecourt Manor, his tactical abilities to quickly understand a combat situation, probably saved more lives than can be counted on the American side of the war. He was a humble man, an astute observer of human behavior and understood how to motivate and lead.  He reminds me of many others I have known.
In June 1964 my family  moved to England for a 3 year tour with the United State Air Force. We stayed at what today would be considered a Bed and Breakfast. It was here I learned to love scalding hot tea and biscuits, and the wisdom behind a late afternoon break for beverage and snack. I still love a good cuppa, and I am particular about how I have my tea. Be that as it is, I met my first British military figure.

Unfortunately, time has erased his name. But he was a wonderful gentleman there at the B and B and he enjoyed spinning his stories for an eager and apt listener, even if the chap was a Yank.  He served with the Royal Navy during World War 1. He was a submariner, and the stories he told me were beyond my imagination. Now, I know they were true. His exploits on an E boat, one of the first type of submarines used by the British were the stuff movies are made of these days. He was probably in the area of the eastern Mediterranean, plying the dangerous, mine filled and heavily guarded Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles. The Army faced terrible loses in the Gallipoli campaign. The submarines of the Royal Navy had far greater success. There is one place where the strait narrows to less than an half mile wide and 200 feet deep. There the Germans and the Turks had the strait well centered with guns, searchlights, and mines. But, I have said too much, Google British E-11, LCDR Martin Dunbar-Nasmith the story is amazing.

Some of the men on the airbases I lived on were veterans of  World War 2 and had flown in many of the famous aircraft that the United States employed during the war. One gentleman had scars across his forehead, the result of a direct attack on his B-17 cockpit by a German fighter. I remember vividly looking at a photo book that a friend of mine had in his home. His name was Malcolm, and he lived down the road from me in the small town of Flackwell Heath in Bucks, England. His father flew Hurricanes in the Pacific and had been shot down twice by Japanese fighters. Unlike so many others, he managed to make his way through Japanese lines and back to his mates. Malcolm would later part ways with me. It was difficult for him, as his friends did not care much for the Yank down the road and eventually he had to make a choice. Today I understand what was happening to him, and the pressure on him.

Two math teachers in high school were veterans, that taught me Algebra 1 and Algebra 2.  One, whose name escapes me was a Marine in the Pacific. I know he was in the Marshall Islands, which means he probably fought at Kwajalein and later, perhaps Guam and Peleliu. His stories of survival, and the effects of war on other marines were sobering. I have memories today that are as fresh as when told me about the stacks of dead, and the stark landscape after a bombardment. Col. Potter was my other teacher that by the way was a wonderful person, patient beyond belief with energized 16 and 17 year old know it alls. He had a quiet manner, and an ability to wait for a student to ask questions that I know now were silly. Col. Potter served with the 3rd Army under the direction of General George Patton. He came in with the second wave at Utah Beach if I remember correctly, and was a staff officer. He never said much about what he did. He was not a front line soldier, but that didn't mean he didn't see things, and in all his modesty, I think I respected him greatly for his service to this my country and to children. God holds him now I am sure, along with all the  others I have written about.

The one soldier I remember most is unknown to me. He lies in a beautiful manicured memorial ground somewhere in France. We as a family went to France in the summer of 1965. We took the ferry out of Dover and embarked on our adventure from Calais.Along the way I remember seeing the battlegrounds of Verdun.  Believe it or not, there were woods that were marked no trespassing with great red signs overlay-ed with black or white skull bones. The  ordiance of world war 1 was so great that it literally littered the woods and some areas near the woods with corroding explosives. We were driving along past many cemeteries and we finally topped to see one of the memorials. To my 11 or 12 year old eyes, the crosses and Stars of David seemed to roll endlessly down a small hill and disappear. The scene had a wrenching affect on my heart and mind. I sat down next to a cross and put my hand on the cold white marble cross. I read the name, now lost from my memory and became very personally attached to the soldier and the suffering I felt he surely went through. French marble honoring him, gleamed. There was no grass against the cross, the grass was and is kept in garden trim.  The beautiful sadness of the green grass, white cross and blue sky is still sealed in my heart  I can still feel the cool breeze on my face when I close my eyes... there beside a soldier I never knew, but will always remember.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rubbing backs and letting go.

When a child grows into a man or woman, we say that we send them out in the world to make their way. I suppose that our parents said such things, and their parents before them. Of course, saying that we send our children out into the world, is vastly different than actually completing the act.  Is it any harder for a mother to send her son out into the vast unknown than it is for a father to send his daughter? Some will argue that a son at least is able to fight in a male world.  Others will say there is nothing like a woman cornered to bring out the ability to survive in a human.

I say if it is your child, you grieve every second that your child is out of sight.  If they are making their way about in the world, a parent holds their breath until the phone rings and once again, normal blood pressure slowly returns to the body.  Some children are naturally acclimated to the situations they find themselves in. They adapt and go on .  My child, how I say that, as if to say she isn’t grown, but she is, at least in age and in attitude. The finer and subtle points in becoming a grownup are still forming in her character.  She has her opinions and she expresses them, often and often loud.  She is a little sprite, five foot three if stretched. A little body with a big idea of what she wants out of life and how to get there.

Tonight it is raining, no it is storming, a cold front moves in from the west and off the Gulf of Mexico. My daughter wanted to get back to Tallahassee from her home near Pensacola. She has classes tomorrow and did not want to miss them. That is something I consider admirable and I find not a little pride in her responsible attitude. Tonight, it is storming and the roads in the daytime are at best demanding of a driver’s full attention. So tonight I would have been happy if she had said, “I’ll wait until morning.” The opposite was true and for hours I forbid her to drive. Her frustration mounted and my apprehension escalated. I watched the Doppler on the Internet, hoping for a clear road, praying for clear sweeps of the radar. There are times when a parent just wants everything to be right.

It isn’t right, but the radar showed a lull between storm bands approaching from the west. I called her in and showed her. I said, “I don’t wish for you to leave, but if you feel you have to, then this is the time to go.”  She didn’t answer, but went from the room and gathered her belongings, long sitting by the door and walked the short distance out to her car. Her mother, who is braver than I am when it comes to her emotions with our daughter, hugged her and told her to be careful.  I walked out barefooted on the acorn-strewn driveway and hugged her tight, feeling her life in my arms. I told her, I loved her. And then she rubbed my back and told me, “Dad, don’t worry, I will be fine.” 

I will watch the Doppler and wait for the call, there will be no sleep, there will be no calm here until I know she is in her home, and tucked away in her bed.  It’s the only way I can do this, she’s just all I know and love and after all, she rubbed my back.

Postscript:  11:30 pm central time. The phone rang, while I was still saddled in my position in front of my computer, watching the Doppler signal the rains flooding across the south land. “It didn’t rain much except around Marianna,” she told me. I knew that was so, she gave me the facts, and then I told her I loved her. “I love you too, “ she whispered.