Monday is Veterans’ Day, and I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize, thank, and pray for all of those who have served and are currently serving our country, especially my nephew Lynn Panko.
Godspeed to you, Lynn, and I pray that our Lord keeps you safe from danger and harm, returning you home to us very soon.
Lynn follows the footsteps of another one of my heroes, my dad (and Lynn’s Pap-Pap) Ray Abercrombie. My father was a veteran of World War II serving in the 88th Infantry Division in Italy. I’m in the process of reading about the entire Italian campaign in Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle.
As I read, I am amazed that anyone ever made it out of Europe alive after World War II. Understand that in 1944, the world was without the conveniences we so depend upon today—I nearly choked reading about Eisenhower receiving a cable about a planned invasion, and I’m thinking, cable? Hell, Ike’s relying on dots and dashes to determine the outcome of the war in Europe? But, then again, he could not have foreseen today’s technology, so he most likely believed that the U.S. was on the cutting edge of wartime gadgets, gizmos, and whatchamacallits.
During my dad’s later years, I spent quite a bit of time talking to him about life stuff—all kinds of life stuff, but one thing that he rarely talked about to me to or to anyone was his experience in combat. Oh, he went on and on about his escapades while “in the service”, about the various pranks he pulled, the places he’d been (Pisa, Rome, the Italian countryside) , about the little aide-de-camp who was assigned to him after the war who had some convoluted German name that made my dad’s throat hurt when he tried to say it so my dad just called him “Fred”, and he made it clear to all three of us why our family would never ever go camping—it went something like this: “I spent way too many g*damn nights sleeping on the ground.” We knew that he hated having his feet covered up at night—something about trench foot–and he was obsessed with having clean socks. When I asked him once if he ever learned to speak Italian, he told me (and I think I was, like, ten years old at the time), “I speak a little bedroom Italian.” That didn’t sink in until I became an adult, at which time I started wondering just how many half siblings of mine might be dotting the Italian boot.
But he never talked about his actual experiences in combat. What few recollections my brother, sister, and I had gathered from him about his time “overseas” was usually only amid the pitiful utterances, shouts, and cries during one of his nightmares or when he was “in his cups”, so to speak, and would let slip some detail that gave us a tiny glimpse into what his life as a combat soldier had been like.
About the only recollection I have of his recounting of combat is when he told me—when I was an adult—about watching one of his buddies get blown into bits as he was retreating over the crest of a ridge toward the place where my dad was watching and waiting for him.
I wish I had the language to recall that conversation here, but I would never do it justice.
Those who served in World War II came home and were expected to pick up life where it left off—they were expected to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and move on. No one ever talked about PTSD or “combat fatigue”, and there were few medical or psychological evaluations made on returning veterans. After all, if they returned in one piece, wasn’t that enough?
No, they just went down to the American Legion hall and drank themselves into a stupor. What made sense to these men and women during wartime ceased to make sense once they returned home.
As Americans, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our veterans return home to a country that is free–at liberty to enjoy the rights and privileges guaranteed by our Constitution—the very same document they have risked their lives to defend.
Anything less makes us unworthy of their service and their courage.