I started Memorial day by watching the movie “Honor Flight”. You can rent it via I tunes, grab a couple of hankies and watch it. A touching documentary about a bunch of WWII vets being taken to Washington DC to visit the memorial made in their honor. My sinuses and throat are still tender from both the tears I shed and the ones I held back. It was such a tribute to what is appropriately called the “worlds greatest generation.” Of boys that traded Keds for combat boots. They collectively left for far away unknown places to face untold atrocities and to come back men that just as quickly traded the boots for wingtips and went to work. Memories were put in a box along with medals and a lot of stories.
My dad was part of that war. It is not that I don’t have lots of physical and mental memories of my dad, but I miss his smell. I so vividly remember the Valentines morning that cancer took him from me. When the funeral guys came to pick up his body, they could not fit the gurney through the narrow hall way. While they were busy pondering how to get the contraption to him, I picked him up and carried him to the gurney. It was probably the first time that I followed his generation tradition of just simply getting things done. I went back to his bed and burrowed my face in his pillow and savored the smell of him.
Dad told me stores of the war, but they were always of fun and manly camaraderie, little of true blood and guts war stories. He was a Navy combat photographer and had lots memories recorded on film and etched in his brain. He shared only the good stuff and carried the rest of the burden as they all did. Dad told me of surviving three PBY airplane crashes in the Pacific. How he once floated with other crew members in the open sea for two and a half days. Never once suffering as much as a scratch until he cut his arm climbing into the rescue craft. He laughed that he “didn’t even get a purple heart for that one”. Other memories carried him to some dark places and he collected more wounds later in life from an unbroken brown bottle trying to forget the war.
As a child, the neighbor hood boys all played “war”. We talked about how many “Japs” (sic & apologies) our fathers had killed. Unlike our father’s generation, us “baby boomers” talked and we all knew each others stories. So all my friends knew my dad was a photographer and that he probably didn’t kill anyone. That really never made him any smaller to me. One day rousting through one of his boxes of memorabilia, I found a photo of him posed without a shirt. He had a mustache over his lips and a Lucky Strike between them. More importantly to me, he was wearing a 45 automatic pistol holstered under his arm. I felt much like Jem must have felt when Atticus shot the rabid dog in “To Kill a Mockingbird”. There was a big part of my dad that I never knew.
I have the razor with which I gave my dad his last shave, I have photos, knifes, tools, cameras, and lots of stuff, but I sure miss his smell. I also miss that ironically, with two photographers in the house I have not one photo of us together. Here’s to ya Dad, happy Memorial Day. Thanks for both the freedom and the silence.
PEZFULEZFEELIN’@U ††† en theos ††† jlawrence