In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I’d share a couple of stories that my dad, who served during WWII in Afghanistan and Burma, used to tell.
Dad was the best cook at our house, a skill he learned in the Army. During the war, food sometimes got so scarce, he said, that even C-rations tasted good. One day he was summoned to the kitchen, where he found the carcass of a huge animal with a hump on its back.
“Oh, Gawd,” he thought, “they’re feeding us a camel.”
It proved to be a water buffalo someone had shot, and after weeks of C-rations, it tasted pretty good – a lot like beef, only stringier, he said.
While he was in Afghanistan, living in a tent city on a rocky plateau, a plane crash-landed. The propeller sliced through those canvas tents like a child’s scissors through paper, slaughtering half a dozen soldiers who lay sleeping. Fifty years later, as Dad recounted that story, tears rimmed his eyes.
It was in Burma that he got his ticket home, when the Jeep he was riding in hit a land mine. Dad didn’t remember much about the accident, so I don’t know whether the explosion or the impact broke his spine. He spent the next six weeks crossing the Atlantic, sweating inside a full-body cast as the pre-air-conditioning hospital ship chugged its way across the Equator. He didn’t receive a Purple Heart, because Burma wasn’t in the war zone, but he did get a disability pension - $25 a month -- for the rest of his life.
Because of this injury, he learned to use his abdominal muscles to hold himself straight to spare his back any stress. This gave him a lifelong six-pack. Years later, my sister went to buy him a shirt, selecting his favored European-cut.
“This is for your father?” asked the salesman. “Do you mind if I ask how old he is?”
“Oh, he won’t be able to wear that,” the salesman said, starting to take it from her. “Older gentlemen are too thick through the waist.”
She snatched it back. "Not my dad," she said.
He died 8 years ago, at the age of 87, and the horror of the things he saw during the war haunted him right up to the end. Back then, they called that "battle fatigue." Today it's "post-traumatic stress disorder."
So, thanks to my dad, and to eveyrone else's dad, brother, sister, mother, cousin, neighbor or whatever for being willing to fight to keep his or her country safe.
And to President Obama, and all the other leaders around the world, I'd like to send a reminder that war is a terrible thing, with consequences we can never fully predict.
Please use it carefully.