I've always been aware of my father's role in World War II. He was a lowly corporal, a T-5 actually in US Army Air Force parlance, one of thousands from the Bronx who had enlisted when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. He didn't do anything worth making a movie about. After getting top marks in Morse Code school, the Army employed his ability as a radio repairman by having him load and unload airplanes, guard POWs, cover KP and other equally noteworthy duties during most of the war. At the war's end, he wound up in a radio tower in the mountains of Germany, sharing food with starving villagers and watching his buddies hunt with machine guns out of excruciating boredom.
Dad has always been aware of his luck. He came close to being sent into different battles, including being shipped to the Pacific Theater of Operations. He saw Ike review the troops, got lost in Belgium but found his way back to base, and never had to serve at the front, although he tells cheerful tales of sleeping through the London blitz to his buddies' amazement. In all, he didn't see his parents or sister for four years. That's a long time when you're only 21.
After he was discharged, Dad, who had quit high school to help his parents during the depression, got his high school diploma, then went to college on the GI Bill. He might have become a history professor except his father told him to go out and earn an honest living after he graduated early. So Dad followed a different dream and became a journalist.
He had an exciting career. He's met more presidents, senators, congressmen, politicians and celebrities than anyone else I know. But foremost was his loyalty to the men who served with him in WWII. He speaks at schools to tell students the importance of their sacrifice and has served as commander of his American Legion post for so long I think they voted him president for life.
As part of his duties as commander, Dad organizes the Memorial Day parade in our tiny hometown. It's what demographers call the "exurbs" -- fancy talk for no sidewalks, no street lights and wild turkeys in your backyard. Still, Dad manages to produce an impressive parade each year, always going out of his way to invite veterans from all wars wherever he can find them.
Sadly, his WWII peers are dwindling, but Dad is doing what he can to preserve their memories. At the age of 86 he still leads the parade on foot up and down the hills of our hometown, turning down any and all invitations to relax and recreate instead. His job is too important, he says.
Thanks, Dad, it's men like you that continue to make us proud. We salute you and all your brothers and sister in arms and wish everyone peace.
Happy Memorial Day.