Reflecting on my Dad on Memorial Day

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As we enter the month of May and Memorial Day, it has me reflecting back on my Dad. My father was a WWII veteran, 99th Infantry. He didn’t talk about the war much, usually around the Christmas holiday. He was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and got to spend that Christmas in an army hospital. He always told the same story of waking up in the hospital and seeing a small Christmas tree across the room. He also talked about hearing the bombers fly overhead as he laid in bed.

My father enlisted right after graduation from high school in 1943. He was part of a training program that was to send him to college during the war to learn specialized skills, but he still had to go to “basics”. So, in the summer of 1943, he was sent to Camp Fannin just outside Tyler, Texas. It was a brand-new training facility so when he arrived, there were only about 9,000 soldiers but would grow to 30,000. In his letters he talked about the incredible Texas heat and that there was no grass and just dusty red clay. He said after training in the heat they were covered in caked-on dirt from their sweat. For a young 18-year-old his spirits were high, and he told stories that they were only given one glass of milk a day at breakfast and just water at lunch and dinner. He mentioned several times in his letters that when he would go into town, he would buy multiple quarts of milk and just chug them down. He also chastised his family for not writing enough. I found it very odd that this young man was schooling his mom for not writing enough. It shed some light on a relationship between mother and son that I certainly didn’t witness later in life between my father and my grandmother.

Right after Basic he was sent to Louisiana for about nine months to learn electrical engineering. However, as the war progressed the U.S. forces needed every able body, and he was sent to Europe by cargo ship. Having grown up on the Connecticut shore he was well adjusted to boating and rough waters. Unfortunately, this did not bode well for him, as he was assigned latrine duty because most of the other soldiers were less seaworthy and green around the gills.

When the war was over, he was assigned to a prison that held German prisoners. One of the prisoners would spend time whittling in his cell. My dad traded cigarettes for a statue the prisoner had carved. That statue was always on display in our house growing up and was named Sad Sack. We all loved and cherished that statue. It represented a time when my father served his country and the pride we felt as his family. My dad has been gone for 32 years and like many, I wish I had asked more questions. I did recently find his flag from his funeral and letters he had written home to my grandmother and aunt during his basic training days. Those letters provide a wonderful insight into an 18-year-old Connecticut Yankee sent down to Texas for boot camp and only strengthens my pride for him and all the young men and women that fought for this great country.

So, as we approach the end of the month, I want to remind everyone of Suffield’s annual Memorial Day parade and ceremony on Monday, May 27th. It’s a wonderful town tradition that I think everyone should partake in to give thanks and show appreciation and respect to those that made the ultimate sacrifice to give their lives to defend our country and our freedoms.

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