During one of my many Sunday afternoons that I used to spend at my parents’ house, the “history buff” that lives inside me came to life for a few unforgettable hours.
Mom and I had pulled out some old photo albums from an antique wash stand that belonged to one of my late grandmothers. For months, she had planned to organize the pictures and place them in storage containers.
I grabbed one spiral-bound album, sat down cross-legged on the sofa and started to thumb through the yellowed pages.
Old black-and-white images stared back at me.
Then one caught my attention.
I jumped up from the sofa and walked over to my dad, who had reclined back in his favorite chair to watch the NASCAR race - his No. 2 passion behind baseball.
“Hey pops, is this you?”
Dad stared at the picture for a minute.
“Yeah, that’s when I was in Korea,” he said.
An Army veteran, dad loved the TV show M*A*S*H because it reminded him of when he served in the Korean War. He never really talked about it and I attributed his silence to PTSD.
On this afternoon, dad opened up a little bit.
Barely out of his teens, he served on the front line. Back then, you accrued points for time served on the front line. His four-year stint ended a year early.
Discharged as a staff sergeant, dad earned a Purple Heart.
Even more amazing, he was a POW twice and escaped each time.
Dad’s eyes twinkled as he continued to look at the pics and talk about jokes he and buddies played on each other. Most of what he told me I can’t put in print.
One of dad’s brothers, Leonard, couldn’t join the military because he was color blind. Robert Jr., named after my late grandfather, served in the Navy and toured on the USS Arizona.
The day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the Arizona had docked 30 minutes earlier. Uncle Bob and his fellow sailors had departed the ship to do some sight seeing, but quickly returned to man their battle stations when the air raid horns sounded.
Uncle Bob got hit by shrapnel and was taken to the base hospital. He survived his injuries and later died in the 1980s from natural causes.
He, like my dad, never talked about war time.
Now, I find myself glued to the History Channel when any documentaries about Pearl Harbor and Korea are aired. I imagine seeing my dad, Uncle Bob and their respective units fight for our country.
Usually, I sit in awe.
And I always shed a few tears.
Oh, how I wish I could hear them tell more stories about their experiences.