My father who is about to turn 94 and is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, served in WWII where he was a captain in the infantry. He landed on the beaches of France in the D-day invasion and was wounded there, shipped back to England for 6 weeks and then rejoined his division. He fought from hedgerow to hedgerow, in soggy fields, dense forests, liberating villages, pushing back the Nazis and then marched into Paris.
He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, which was the Nazis last stand before they were thankfully defeated. He was awarded two purple hearts, the Bronze star, and other medals.
No one de-programmed him when he came back from the horrors that he had seen, “over there.” He married my mother dressed in his uniform. There is a picture that I have of him when he arrived back in the states, where Dad looks disturbed and troubled, and it’s not hard to imagine what images, that were forever burned in his memory, he was trying to process, to come to terms with, from the war. He never talked about the war when my brother and I were kids, however, on the 60 year anniversary he opened up, for the first time about it. I talked to him for well over an hour and heard stories that I had never heard before. He told me how he won the Bronze star. There was a field in France and the Germans were hunkered down on the other side of it. My father was told to have his men attack the position. He led a charge across that field and from what I gathered the fighting was fierce and bloody, and there was hand to hand combat. It was the only time in my 60 years that he was able to talk about the war without breaking down.
When my daughter called him a few years ago, before the onset of Alzheimer’s, and interviewed him about the war for an assignment that she was working on for a high-school history class, he lasted less than two minutes before breaking down completely, handing the phone to my mother, collapsing in a chair and crying bitterly.
He has carried those memories all of his adult life. They have troubled him in his sleep in the form of recurring nightmares, stolen the joy and innocence of his youth, and perhaps, as some recent studies seem to indicate, brought on the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. My father was/is a hero, and as each year passes and the numbers of those who fought on the beaches of France and liberated Europe grow less what happened becomes a distant memory….
We are still fighting in Afghanistan, and this war has lasted longer than WWII. Our president has deployed our blood and treasure in Libya and elsewhere, and defied his Constitutional obligation to bring the matter before Congress. Suicide rates are apparently rising in those who return from Iraq and Afghanistan. Last Christmas my wife and I were dinning with a friend whose son is a marine and was on leave. He told us of a village that was shelled and of the accidental civilian casualties that had occurred. He broke down at the table and wept.
When the King returns, we are told that men will not learn war any more. That is one of the many promises that await us in the future. The return of the King is what we should hope for, as the ravages of war and the blood of untold millions, spilled on the ground, down through the centuries, cries out… Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus….