Monday, November 12, 2007

My Dad

My dad is an intriguing person. He grew up in upper Michigan. His passion was the outdoors. He loved camping, fishing, and hunting. He had two sisters, one older, one much younger. He spent his life outside. One of my favourite pictures of him is one where he is feeding a deer out in the woods. He and his friends had built a log cabin and there were many deer around. It took me a long time to understand how he could hunt *and* love animals.

He joined the United States Marine Corps right out of high school. He was sent to Korea.

He was in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and almost lost his feet and his life. He was told in an evacuation hospital that they were going to amputate both of his feet because of how they had frozen. He told a Corpsman nearby that he was holding him personally responsible for making sure they did NOT do that and that there would be "hell to pay" if it happened. The Corpsman held his promise, dad kept his feet.

He came back to the USA and became a recruiter for the USMC in Morgantown, West Virginia. He met and married my mom and then a few years later had me. They were a happy young couple, but my Dad's career in the Marine Corps was not a simple one.

He was telling me a story a few years ago about how he'd recruit young men into the Corps. Many of them were sent overseas to fight. Many did not come back alive. As one of the few Marine Corps personnel in Morgantown, he'd be called upon to attend the funerals. He said it was quite emotional realizing that he'd recruited these young men (who were just about his age) and then would attend their funerals within the year. It was one of the first times that his emotions about things he saw and did in the military showed. I started to see my dad differently than I ever had.

He didn't talk much about his military life while I was growing up. He retired when he was 40 (and I was 15), and started a second life as a civilian. I got to know both men. One was a Marine Captain who rose through the ranks as an enlisted man. The other was as a mellowing southern gentleman with a past that he only rarely spoke of.

Now he occasionally tells stories. Some are about his two tours in Vietnam (where I thought he was just an engineer building bridges), his life in Michigan as a child, his many friendships and joys. I'm always struck with how glad I am to still have him in my life, realizing how often he was in danger.

Right now he's fighting another kind of battle. His body, which has carried him through enormous turmoil and unfathomable joys, is aging. Over the past 5 months he has had radiation treatment for cancer and major heart surgery. He is recovering, but I know that he won't be around forever.

We're close but I wish I knew him better. I wish there was unlimited time. I wish we were not so much closer to the end. I wish I had understood these things when I was younger and had him nearby.


At 4:01 PM, Blogger George said...

My father-in-law as a Marine at the Chosin Reservoir. Has your dad participated in any of the Chosin Few reunions? My wife's in a situation similar to yours, although her dad's relatively healthy, and she's taking more time to learn about her dad. They went to Arlington National Cemetery last month for the Wreaths Across America program. Unbelievable! Ask your dad if he associates Tootsie Rolls with the Chosin Reservoir. Apparently miscommunication sent Tootsie Rolls instead of ammunition; my father-in-law survived on them for days. Enjoy!

At 4:26 PM, Blogger George said...

P.S. You and/or your dad might enjoy reading 'Breakout' by Martin Russ. It's about the Chosin Reservoir campaign. My father-in-law recognized a lot of names and specific events in the book.

At 11:48 PM, Blogger Gracie said...

This was a beautiful blog and I feel you entirely.


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