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On the greatest generation

By   /   November 9, 2009  /   Comments

I would like to be the air

That inhabits you for a moment

only. I would like to be that unnoticed

& that necessary.

Margaret Atwood “Variation on the word sleep”; 1981

My writing skills are not what they used to be. Some nights the words flow like spring raindrops and other nights they fall hard like an ice storm on a winter day. They are words as water and ice are the same, yet different in state and intensity.

I find myself irritated and dull at the same time. That accursed movie is playing again on television. “Field of Dreams”. What a piece of goop from Hollywood.

Just because I played pitch with my father once I should blubber about lost days, weeks years, etc. etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseum. My father was a decent baseball player in high school. He might have played minor league ball, but his aspiring baseball career ran into a roadblock.

He graduated in May 1941 and joined the U.S. Navy to see the world.

He got to see quite a bit of it after finishing basic training. He was assigned to San Francisco and was sent into the Pacific arriving just two weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked. I never asked him what it was like arriving in Pearl Harbor with wreckage strewn about and the smell of death and destruction still in the air. He wanted to see the world and boy did he see it. Half the men on his aircraft carrier, USS Bunker Hill, were killed or missing when they were struck by two Japanese “Divine Wind” kamikaze aircraft in 1945.

Like millions of other obscure young men who fought for their country in WWII, Dad wanted to leave his small hometown and start an adventure. An adventure to build his future upon, but the way he planned it and the way it played out was very different. Several hundred thousand never made it back and countless thousands made it back with memories you will never see in any travel or tourist brochure.

Come to the beautiful forests and mountains of Germany. See the prison and extermination camps where six million Jews and others were exterminated from the earth for no other reason than they happened to be Jews in the wrong place at the wrong time. Talk about being born under a bad sign.

See beautiful Hawaii with the shattered remains of the once great U.S. Pacific Fleet. See where more than 2,000 Americans died one beautiful December morning in 1941. Aloha boys; all this courtesy of the Emperor of Japan.

Welcome to the sunny Philippines. See where 50,000 allied prisoners were starved and marched to death for the glory of the Japanese empire. Next time you buy a Nissan or Toyota think of us … Sayonara.

What Price the War?

I saw the years eat away at my father like a cancer. His drinking became worse and he turned more in on himself. There was little I could do except provide some support here and there without becoming an enabler.

Ten years of counseling in the prisons of the state had me somewhat prepared for dealing with him. Being objective was the hardest part. He was in no way objective towards me. He knew most good and bad things I had ever done and was prepared to rip me to shreds with his acerbic and slashing comments.

I sat and listened to him with blank expressions and gave him slow measured answers.

My attempts at limited emotion only fueled his frustration with me. He was looking for sympathy, but there was little I could give.

There is an old joke about where you can find sympathy in the dictionary, but I doubt Kevin and his staff would let this get by so I will leave it in the dictionary.

The war had taken its toll. He was putting a gun to his head and pulling it one shot (drink) at a time. There is a country music song that goes something like that.

My father’s several friends and acquaintances were much the same way. They had all been part of the Great Depression and had mastered it only to be thrust into a great war against the Nazi’s and the Japanese. The Americans whipped both of them and came home to family and nation.

God knows they deserved every accolade that could be laid at their feet and most took it with humility. Remembering the men and women that had not come back was a sobering reminder of how life seems so unfair at times.

Dad’s buddies all had drinking problems, marital problems or other conflicts that followed them all to their graves.

These millions of common ordinary men who served in extraordinary ways defeated the world’s evil dictators in war, but could not defeat their inner demons in peace.

As Veteran’s Day approaches I want to say, “Good job, Dad. You and your buddies saved the world back in WWII. I just wish we could have saved you from yourselves.”

I look forward to seeing you again one day. Maybe we will toss that old baseball back and forth just one more time.

Sonny-Lofton-002By: Sonny Lofton. Albany natve Sonny Lofton is a veteran broadcaster and writer. He co-hosts the “Frank and Sonny” show from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thurday on WWVO The Voice FM-90.7.

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