Memory

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My father, Bill Waller, was stationed in Scotland for several months before the Normandy invasion. While there, he had his picture taken wearing Highland dress. As a child, I smiled at the photo of my daddy wearing a dress. Since then it’s occurred to me that if his ancestors had stayed home instead of emigrating, he might have grown up wearing the kilt.

He rarely spoke about the war, and I knew not to ask, so I know few details about his service.

He enlisted several months before his draft number came up, nearly a year before the war began, expecting to serve the required two years.

He rode a boxcar from Southern California to Hershey, Pennsylvania in November of 1942, and was stationed there until he shipped out for Europe. He hit Omaha Beach on June 19, 1944, instead of on June 6, and instead of swimming, he drove.

A farmer in Belgium gave him a cigar holder. 034

He said the coldest place he’d ever been was Cologne in winter.

He lost his hearing as a result of bomb concussion but tried to keep it a secret. His buddies pretended to hear airplanes and ran for foxholes; then, when he dived into a foxhole, they laughed. An officer finally saw the prank in progress and sent him back to Paris, where he spent the last several month of the war in hospital as an ambulatory patient.

When he came home before daylight in October of 1945, his mother-in-law met him at the door. He handed her his hearing aids and said, “Don’t tell Crystal about these.” My grandmother, of course, told. After several days of shouting, my mother told him hearing aids were no different from glasses and  suggested he retrieve and wear them.

In the ’70s, when Anzio aired on television for the first time, his brother’s step-son commented that he couldn’t imagine how soldiers could get off the LSTs and hit the beaches while under fire.

“There’s nowhere else to go,” said my father. That’s the only remark I ever heard him make about actual combat.

My mother told me that when his brothers were talking about looting that occurred on the battlefield, he said, “I’ve seen them cut off fingers to get rings.” Then he walked out of the room.

I’ve heard it said that “One a soldier, always a soldier.” In my father’s case, that didn’t appear to be true. To him, military service was a job. He took it seriously, as he did every job he ever had. There was work to be done in Europe, and he did what he was necessary. But when he got home, he gave my mother his uniforms and told her to get rid of them. He spoke highly of Gen. Omar Bradley; he had little good to say about General Patton. He read Eisenhower’s memoir of D-Day twenty years after. He sometimes spoke about men he’d served with, but never those who had died. He didn’t join the American Legion or the VFW. He didn’t go to Veterans Day parades. He didn’t seem to want public recognition of his service.

My mother said of all the men she knew who went to war, he was the least changed. He came home, put it behind him, and went on with life. But he rarely used the shotgun he’d had since he was ten years old. The sound of gunfire bothered him.

He didn’t watch Anzio or any other war movies, but he never missed an episode of M*A*S*H*. I asked once  whether the Army was really like that. He grinned sheepishly and his eyes began to twinkle.

“Yeah.”

At first I thought he’d given the easy answer, but that twinkle showed he was telling the truth. What he didn’t want to remember, he did his best to set aside. He chose to keep the part he could smile at.

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14 Responses to Memory

  1. erinfarwell says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your father. Loved the stories and wish I could meet him.

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  2. katewyland says:

    Great post. So few are left from what some consider the last honorable war. Perhaps we just don’t know about it, but it seems that WWII veterans suffered less from PTSD than vets from later wars. Perhaps because it was such a clear-cut “job” with no question about why they were there. My father-in-law served in WWI and he too would never talk about it.

    I grew up on the heroic war movies and as a kid was disappointed that my family didn’t see action. My dad was too old and my brothers too young. Of course, I’ve changed my opinion on that now. 🙂

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    • Kathy Waller says:

      I think you’re right about the clear-cut mission, and probably the clear-cut surrenders, too. The heroic war movies probably did both a service and a disservice to Baby Boomers, since they paid tribute but also presented such a sanitized picture. I remember playing “war” with children of career military personnel, but never with children from non-military families. We played Davy Crockett and Roy Rogers. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. What an interesting story. Thank you for sharing your memories.

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  4. Doris says:

    I have always enjoyed and was honored to speak with and for the gentlement at their reunions. They were and are special people. Aunts, uncles and a grand parent of two served in a number of the wars this country has been involved in. I appreciate your sharing your father’s story. Doris

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    • Kathy Waller says:

      A relative is writing down stories his father-in-law told him about World War II. I’m sorry (of course) that I didn’t encourage my father to say more when he finally hinted he might be ready to talk. When you step back and consider what they did, it’s almost impossible to take in. Thanks for your comment, Doris.

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  5. Neva Bodin says:

    Sounds like your father was a wonderful and wise man. That was really an interesting post and enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Gayle Irwin says:

    Kathy, this was a great post that give us all pause. I’m sure all must suffer from some type of combat stress, but perhaps we as a nation didn’t deal with it as such back then. Plus, the longevity of the more recent wars, many going back three and four times as well as the weaponry changes … we will probably never really know. But, what we do know is that all veterans have sacrificed as have their families, and we owe them all honor and thanks. Thank you for sharing your dad’s story!

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  7. sstamm625 says:

    What a great post, Kathy! Your words bring your father to life for your readers–a loving tribute.

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  8. Wranglers says:

    Thanks to your dad for his service. By your wroting, I see a warm memory of a great man. Cher’ley

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  9. Wranglers says:

    Thanks for sharing. Many men chose not to share their experiences during the war. I guess everyone handles things differently.

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  10. Nancy Jardine says:

    Great post, Kathy. Not all men who were drafted in were happy to be there. My father never liked to talk about his time in the war either. For some odd reason he was enlisted in a Welsh Infantry regiment and not a Scottish one. He served in North Africa and was in Holland near the end of the war. He wasn’t demobbed till late 1946, having spent that post war time in Belgium during the ‘clear up’ operations. He only kept items that were practical to him like his army greatcoat, blanket, napsack and smaller items which he could use on his walks. He loved to head out of the city of Glasgow on a Sunday and walked for miles and miles. He’d dig out his primus stove from hi army knapsack and fill his tin cup wit strong tea. When I was older he’d taek me with him but I always knew he walked a lot less when I was alongside. I still have a few of his army items which I used to show to my class when we studied WWII as a class history project.

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