Thursday, December 19, 2013
My dad fought in Korea. Got drafted into the US Army. Last rank was Master Sergeant. He rarely spoke of his war experience. I never asked.
The first story he shared was odd to me. I was maybe 12 years old. We weren't a family that discussed race, skin color, etc. Just never came up. My only exposure to race was my Scranton neighborhood - the lines between Italians, Germans, Polish, and Irish were largely set by where the Catholic Churches were located. In the 1960s, there were a lot of recent immigrants, and European languages were commonly spoken. My grade school was a neighborhood school which further reinforced a small group of friends. There was not a single black person in my school. In fact, the first black person I ever saw in a school was a 7th-grade student when I was a senior.
So out of the blue, my dad tells me a story. His company was pinned down by the North Koreans. A black guy in his company told everyone to run and that he'd cover for them. They all got out except the black guy. Some soldiers recovered his body - head shot, bullet pushing out his eyelid. Dad says, "That man saved my life, so don't ever tell me there's a difference in people because of skin color."
I was all, "Um, OK." I never thought there was. As I was thinking yesterday morning, I concluded that something must have happened to anger him at work. It certainly wasn't anything I said or felt.
Another story conveyed his appall at the North Koreans. He was on guard duty for POWs. Big fenced-in area. A well was inside. In the morning, the well was filled with dead bodies. They had killed their own. Dad couldn't process such disrespect for life.
Another. There was a clearing that his company had to cross. Big rocks on both sides. One by one, the soldiers crossed. The enemy was shooting wildly every time a soldier entered the clearing. Dad ran. On the other side, safely behind a rock, he said that he checked his body for bullet holes. "I was never so happy in my life when I realized I wasn't hit." I believed him, of course, but what a remarkable standard forced upon soldiers.
The last two stories are related. The company had orders to take a hill the following morning. Dad knew it would result in deaths. Sometime late in the day he was handed his orders to go home. His tour of duty was over. He turned down an offer to go to Officers School. He was spared from the assault on the hill.
So somehow he gets to his driveway. I suspect he took a bus to Scranton, then somehow got a ride the 20+ miles to the farm. He walks up the driveway with his duffel bag, still in uniform. His dad was walking back from the field. My dad had been gone for two or three years. "I'm home," dad said. Grampa looked at him: "You never should have gone." Turns out grampa was against war. He was too young for WW1 and too old for WW2. He was afforded a peaceful existence in that sense. But he was a real dick to my father.