Monday, May 25, 2009

War Stories

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.


  1. Thanks for sharing, I was actually thinking of posting something similar with a different tone...

  2. Jeanne, Those are great stories. I'm so sorry he'd had such an awful accident, but he made the best out of it. He must of been a great guy.

  3. Wow - thanks for sharing your Dad's stories. What a life he had.

    "War does not determine who is right--only who is left." Bertrand Russell

  4. Amen, sister-friend! Regardless of any of our political beliefs, if you are free and at peace within our own country, we have a soldier to thanks.

    I was in ROTC in college, but too much of a wus to actually enlist.

    Every year when I live in New York City, during Fleet Week (the week leading up to Memorial Day), I would see soldiers all over the place visiting the city. And every time I saw one, I thought of my dad, and all those service folks who have done what they've done to keep us safe...and my chest always swells with pride.

    Thank you to my dad, too!

  5. My dad served in WWII, G.I. in Europe, my wife's dad in the Pacific-Navy.. Neither talked much about it, but neither had much use for guns after that, either...

  6. Your dad sounds awesome! I love the six pack story.

  7. I bet you miss your Dad. This was a very nice tribute to him. I like how you made him sound.

    Love Renee xoxo

    Bring all the soldiers home.

  8. This was very special. I just spent a few days learning more about our heritage in northern Kentucky. My grandfather helped rebuild roads in Burma during the last year of the war. I never got to hear whatever stories he had.

    War is greed and self preservation mutated by the hands of men,under the banner of a God.

  9. Great story. Even greater because it your dad's.

  10. This is a beautifully written piece, and a great commemoration. Thank you.

  11. wow, your dad sounds like he was an amazing man.

  12. Your Dad sounds like he was an amazing man...he learned Pilates principals early!

  13. Great Post. I'm in awe of the sacrifices made by those who serve our country. I have great admiration for WW2 vets and understand why they have been labeled "The Greatest Generation". Thanks for sharing.

  14. I am so moved by your beautifully written piece! What a life!

    Our elders have so much to share, and probably even more that they would like to forget. Amazing!

  15. Great stories. We do need to thank everyone for being willing to fight to keep our country safe. War IS terrible. I often feel guilty when I catch myself complaining about menial things. B/c comparatively, they're nothing.

  16. Now that was brilliant. $25 a month for all that. We ahve no idea do we of the horror these brave souls lived through. My grandfather died at 94 and would still ahve nightmares of being a prisoner of war in Singapore for five years. I often wonder about the childen and wifes and partners of these troops too. They are living the war with them.

    A six pack? Did he possibly share his technique with you Jeanne, lol??

  17. I'm so glad that I read this. Thank you!


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