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Veteran Memories

While I was cleaning out dresser drawers this past summer in preparation for putting our house on the market, I refound my father’s dog tag from World War II. This memento came my way from my stepmother following my father’s death at age 61 several years ago. My intent was to retain it for my it son until he was older and could better appreciate what the tag stood for, since he was only three at the time. I thought of handing them over when my son turned eighteen, then twenty-one, twenty-five, thirty. Unfortunately, when those events came to pass, I was unable to locate the tag, having put it away for safekeeping and succeeded so well, even I couldn’t find it.

Photo by Leslie Sloan

Photo by Leslie Sloan

Over the years, I would come across the tag from time to time, remember my vow to hand it over to my son on some important occasion and then put it away only to lose track of it again.

Richard Youngman circa 1944

My dad, circa 1944

It’s important the next generation appreciate the significance of something as mundane as dog tags, because they represent a time we and the generations to come will never know.  I regret that I didn’t learn more about his military service from my dad while he was still alive. What I do have are numerous photos he brought back from his days as a SeaBee in the South Pacific in the mid-40s. Some of them appeared on this blog  this past Memorial Day. Unfortunately, he didn’t label any of them, and that old black and white photography, sepia in some cases, is somewhat blurry after seventy years. Now I can only piece together some of his story.

My dad was an only child. His younger sister died in infancy. He wasn’t into sports, but from an early age he liked building things. He was twenty-one when World War II broke out. I don’t know if he enlisted or was drafted. All I know is that he wound up in the Navy contributing his skills to the war effort by building barracks and mess halls and all the other accoutrements needed by the military in the South Pacific. An Iowa boy who grew up in a small city on the Mississippi, I doubt he’d ever been out of state let alone been on an airplane or ship, and yet, like so many other of his countrymen at that time, he went off to war, lived in an unfamiliar climate and labored each day amidst the ever-present threat of approaching warfare.

musings seabees groupMy dad was never much of a social animal when I was young. He much preferred staying home and watching television to joining clubs, attending sports events, or entertaining guests. It amazes me how, for a few short years, he was thrown into a totally different lifestyle. Perhaps what he saw during that time and his knowledge of what he fought to defend were the reasons why, when he returned home, he savored life in an easy chair so much.

My dad’s story has been lived by thousands of other veterans, albeit each different in its own right. But every one of them was plucked out of everyday life and thrust into environments and circumstances far beyond their knowledge or prior experience. Today we honor not only those who came back, changed forever, and those who didn’t make it, changing the lives of their loved ones forever. Happy Veterans’ Day.

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