My father was born in 1918 in New Jersey. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1921 and that is where he grew up. I felt I never got to really know him as an adult, he became sick when I was in my late teens and passed away a couple of days before I turned 21. But of what I do remember, he seemed to have had a colorful life in LA growing up. The good thing is that he fancied himself quite the photographer so I do have a good bit of LA history in his photos. He hung out at Muscle Beach in the late 30's with lots of body building buddies. I have some great photos from that time (the bathing suits were wonderful!). He also played semi-pro football and I believe, had dreams of going pro. That dream (realistic or not) would not become reality. He was drafted into the army during WWII and became part of the 101st Airborne division as a paratrooper in The 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment . He was part of the group that jumped on D-Day in France - I'm not sure where, all I remember him telling us is that they were dropped early so they were not very close to their target. He was captured shortly after hitting the ground. He was taken as a prisoner of war and spent time in several German prisoner camps until the end of the war.
My dad spoke freely of his time in the war, and while I never got the sense that it was a horrible experience, I also never got the idea it was anything like a vacation. I know he lost quite a bit of weight during his imprisonment but I don't think he was treated badly (or maybe he just didn't tell us everything - I suppose that is a possibility. He did tell us of how he was able to sneak out of the camps at times and was occasionally fed by some nice people (he told of one in particular that was hiding Jews in her house as well). Other times when he would sneak out, he 'borrowed' items from houses in which he was not formally invited. That is how he came into possession of a couple of little books in which he kept notes. These books look to be some sort of note books or address books, I'm not exactly sure as I don't read German. I have several little pieces of his life and I treasure these in particular because of their historical significance and more because they give me a little insight into the man that was my father. A man I miss so very much.
Here I share a bit of him and history with you, in honor of all veterans.
First - a letter sent to him from one of his friends that was returned to the sender with a note of 'missing' at the bottom. How it must have felt for one of his friends to receive this - I cannot imagine.
Here is a list he kept of his fellow soldiers. WIA = wounded in action; K = killed. PW noted the men taken as prisoners.
This is one of my favorites as it is more personal. One of the best lines (to me), 'Buy 5 lb fruitcake and a box of O'Henry's and never be out'. In all my memories of him, I never knew him to like fruitcake.
These are the names and dates of the POW camps in which he was kept. Sobering.
The other pages hold an amazing amount of data. He wrote recipes, grocery lists, menus, work out routines among other things. All in great detail with painfully neat and tidy little letters. Examples shown above - are all from one of the books, the one that is hand printed. The other little book is identical in text, but is hand written. I never did get to go through this stuff piece by piece, page by page with him when he was alive. I knew of his duffel bag with his war memorabilia, but being a kid - it never did interest me much. Now I only wish...
When my dad came home after the war, he was a hobo. He rode the rails in across the U.S., he ate at soup kitchens. He was even arrested once for vagrancy when it was really cold so he could have a hot meal and a warm bed. And again, in relaying his stories of that time in his life - everything sounded so interesting and exciting. Never sad or as if it was anything other than a great adventure. He eventually made his home back in Southern California and became employed in the lumber industry. At 41 years of age he married for the first time and seven months later became a dad for the first time. That was in 1960 and that lucky child was me.
Today - I honor my father - my hero, and ALL Veterans. I have the highest respect for them for their service and am grateful to all their loved ones for the sacrifices they make.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention my significant other (pictured above) and his service in the Navy at the tender age of 17 in the Vietnam war. I owe a debt of gratitude to him for not only for his time served but for all the ways in which he has, and continues to, enriched my life.
To all Veterans... I say THANK YOU!
Leaves of Grass
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body - Walt Whitman