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The Greatest Generation

 

(Author’s  note:  A reader of my book, A TIME TO LIE, asked if John Drake’s dad  was actually my dad.  The answer is yes and no.  Drake’s dad is  “modeled” after my dad, but his dad was from a different generation and a  different war. I thought about Brokaw's book, "The Greatest  Generation". In America's history, there has been many great generations  starting with the Revolutionary War of Independence.  It's not my place  to decide which generation was the greatest. During the American Civil  War, thousands gave the greatest sacrifice to ensure the freedom of all.  In each generation, Americans make the sacrifice to ensure freedom  whether it be at home or abroad. Each  generation has veterans who have served their country.  Please take  into consideration their experiences before judging them.)
 

The one from  Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation" who had the greatest impact on  shaping who I am today was in my opinion the greatest generation of  one.  Who is this person?  It was my dad. Rest in peace, Dad.
 

The Greatest Generation of One

Notice  I didn’t use the term father?  There’s a reason for that. He didn’t  like being called father.  He wanted to be called dad. I never  understood his reasoning until my latter years.  I’ll explain later.   Now I’ll give a little background on Dad.

His  formative years were during “The Great Depression”. Because of the dire  circumstances of his family, he quit school in the ninth grade.  He put  cardboard inside his shoes because the soles had holes.  He couldn’t  take the criticism of being so poor.

      Dad enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938.  He lied about  his age to join and be able to travel outside of Kentucky.  He was  shipped from Kentucky to the western states stringing wire and setting  poles for the National Park Service. Keeping a stipend, the rest of his  pay was sent back home to be saved.  When his enlistment was complete in  1940, his family asked him to return to Kentucky.  He was told a job  awaited his return.  Upon arriving home, he had neither a job nor any  savings.  I believe he finally found a job shoveling coal off a truck  into coal bins.

In  August of 1942, he entered the service of the United States Army.  This  is taken directly from his separation qualification record, section  13:  TITLE—DESCRIPTION—RELATED CIVILIAN OCCUPATION:

     “AMPHIBIAN TANK DRIVER:  Drove amphibian tank in

     In landings on New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago,

     and on Borneo with the Aussies.  Served with 593rd

     Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, 3rd Engineer Special

     Brigade, for 24 months overseas.  Also drove heavy

     Trucks transporting heavy equipment.”

Section 32:  Battles and Campaigns

     “BISMARK ARCHIPELAGO; NEW GUINEA; AIR COMBAT Borneo.”

(Author’s  note:  When I asked him about the air combat, he said he must have flow  over Borneo going someplace.  He didn’t give any other reason.)

      Another interesting notation in his discharge paper was that he was  AWOL for 7 days.  He went AWOL to marry my mother before shipping out to  the pacific.  They were married in Florida, and he hitch hiked to  California to catch up to his outfit.  When I asked about it, his  response was, “What were they going to do to me?  Send me to war?”  It  was an interesting response which I didn’t understand as a young man.

      He was discharged from service on January 5, 1946.  He had gone from a  strong strapping young man to a very thin ill man spending time in the  VA hospital.  All treatments to help him failed.  Apparently, he was  dying.  Part of his stomach was removed because of ulceration.  He was  given shock treatments.  Mom said he had violent nightmares as if he  were in battle.  Finally, when he was in the hospital, he met a young  Baptist preacher who had just graduated from seminary.  In a nutshell, I  believe my dad was dying because he believed that he had lost his  salvation because of his deeds during the war.

      Through counseling with the preacher, Dad started healing and checked  out of the hospital.  He and several other men built the preacher’s  first church using hand tools.  Dad never left that church.  It was a  sanctuary for him.  He never completely got over the war.  Demons  followed him the rest of his life.  When they attacked, he would call my  wife who has a degree in theology and talk for long periods of time.   My wife would settle him down until the demons found another chink in  his armor.  Then he would call her again.

      I always thought my dad was a stern man.  He would say, “A man has the  right to swing his arms as hard as he wants until he hits another man.   Then things change.”  Everything was black and white with few shades of  gray.  Sundays were strictly observed.  We couldn’t even watch a movie.   I didn’t understand where he was coming from.  Age brings wisdom, even  to me.  To understand my dad, I had to understand what shaped him.  The  Great Depression and WW II were major cataclysmic molding events.  Just  living through those periods of time had to be horrific.

      I believe the reason he wanted to be called dad was because the term  father was too distant for him.  Dad meant he was close to his  children.  In retrospect, I believe he dearly loved his family and  wanted them to do better than he had in life.  All five of his children  graduated from college and have never been in trouble.  He stayed  married to the same woman until death.  He was a sounding board whenever  asked.  Out of the greatest generation, I was only close to one of  them.  I’m positive that there are many “greats” from that generation,  but I’m only qualified to speak of one.  I miss him.  That’s why this  piece is titled THE GREATEST GENERATION OF ONE.