In the past weeks, for reasons unclear to me, my thoughts have turned again and again to my dad, who has been deceased nearly eleven years. Again they turn to him on Memorial Day.
It is hard for us, as children especially, to fathom that our parents had lives before we came along. More than half of my father’s life was over before I was born, putting his military service more than twenty-five years before my birth. It was a part of his life I never knew and one about which he seldom spoke.
It is easy for us as civilians to acknowledge our veterans with lip service, but how often do we really think about the sacrifices our military men and women (and their families) make? We thank them without knowing their particular hardships or heart breaks. I don’t know what my father’s service cost him, but the few facts I know offer an indication.
My dad was drafted into service during World War II. At nineteen years old, he left his father and younger brother (his mother had died when he was five-years-old) to serve in the United States Navy. I never thought to ask why the Navy. It seems an outlandish choice given that he was afraid of water. (His twice-widowed father, an Italian immigrant, was described as “strict,” and forbade his boys from playing in or near the water. He never learned to swim.)
Despite his fear of water, he was stationed on an escort carrier, the U.S.S. Chenango, and sailed the Pacific Ocean. I know only that he visited Okinawa, scraped barnacles, and described being onboard during a typhoon as one of the scariest events of his life.
I can’t help but wonder about the trepidation he must have felt that night before he left. Other than his years of military service, in which he traveled across the United States and around the world to bring sailors home from the Pacific theater, he spent the entirety of his eighty years on the same, small piece of property in suburban Pittsburgh.
Twice he requested leave to come home during his father’s illness. (His brother had also entered the Navy.) Twice he was declined. We found the letters among the many treasures he’d saved from those years, including holiday menus aboard his ship.
My father, a quiet man, almost never spoke of his service, never complained, and remained an active member of the American Legion. He wasn’t required to make the ultimate sacrifice. He never saw battle, and he returned home to bury his father, marry my mother, operate his own business, and have four children. His life was long and for the most part, I think, happy.
Although I’ve said it to strangers, I never thanked Dad for his service. Never told him how proud I was that he had served his country.
I am grateful, Dad. And proud. Thank you for your service.
– by Carolyn Astfalk
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