A father’s tears for his fatherland
In these trying days, God seems to be putting us to twin tests – of individual perseverance, and of allegiance to our country.
Love of country isn’t just a cozy sentiment, it’s required under the Fourth Commandment. As our country is our fatherland, our love, respect and obligations are extended to our ‘extended family,’ our countrymen. In Catholic school, we were taught (referencing the Baltimore Catechism) that showing sincere support of one’s country meant voting honestly, paying just taxes, and defending the country’s honor when necessary
In the early 1940s, my grandfather – an immigrant from Italy – served on his Pennsylvania town’s draft board. He recruited his own sons who were eligible to fight in WWII, including my then-teenage dad, Victor. Grandpop was a devout Catholic and proud American patriot, which meant sending his sons to fight against his native Italy, along with boys of many neighbors.
Seeing his elder brother, Joe, go off to Army boot camp in 1941, my dad was raring to go. He strolled through the neighborhood in his leather squadron jacket and bomber cap, posing for a photo whenever possible. He loved pre-matinee film clips of the Glenn Miller Band entertaining troops overseas – Dad had even started his own big band. He absorbed each day’s radio and newspaper reports on the war’s progress. He was already there.
But because of a knee injury suffered in infancy, the Army rejected him. He took it like a fatal diagnosis.
“I watched neighbors and friends leave weekly, and I wanted to go. I was the only guy my age left in the neighborhood. When the July 1944 telegram came saying Joe was injured at Utah Beach, France and hospitalized in Paris, my mother had a breakdown. Five months later we got another one saying he was wounded again in Germany.”
With their mother – my grandmother – wracked with fear and worry, Dad said, “I did as much as I could to alleviate her stress at home.” Dad lightened things up with his incredible humor, and helped with his younger siblings. He would tear up when he recounted it, still lamenting not being on the fighting lines.
Almost 60 years later, Dad came to live with us and I learned still more. He related war events clearer than any documentary – during movies, film shorts, and family gatherings. He pored through old photos, pointing out those who never made it back and what he’d remembered about them.
Each Memorial Day, our town has a parade spotlighting WWII veterans dressed in their military uniforms, waving to the crowds. As Dad got more immobile, I’d need to get him there early, into his wheelchair, and over a few blocks for a good curbside spot. Because he wouldn’t miss it.
As the WWII vets would approach, Dad’s eyes brimmed with tears as he, well-dressed for the occasion, sat tall and saluted each parade-group from his wheelchair, his lower lip quivering, his memories still fresh. He always told us, “This great country is worth fighting for, and don’t you kids forget it.”
CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.