Below is an excerpt of the eulogy I prepared and delivered at my father’s funeral in June of 2019. Other items were shared both by me and others; however, this snippet represents the inspirational component of my father’s life that I want to share as he was a WWII Vet.
WARNING: the story has a natural component to it that may be considered graphic in natural. Read with discretion.
For those of you who know my dad, he identified with membership in the brotherhood of Marine World War II veterans. We all have heard him tell his stories, even though we don’t know if they were all true. He nearly always wore his USMC hat, but what most people don’t know is that those years of active duty service were very much a damaging experience to his soul.
As only a few know, my father suffered from what we now call PTSD. Back then, this ailment had no label. He was just another WWII vet, trying to deal with life. I want to tell you a story that strikes at the very core about how PTSD can impact a person and how he made it bring light to the Christian message.
When I was about 10 years old, I remember an afternoon when I went to visit the Green’s Farm. The Greens live 10 minutes away by bicycle and had 3 boys. As was my habit, I would go to their house on the weekends, and we would do farm chores together. On this visit, all the Greens were processing the family’s turkeys. They raised and sold them to people in the area, and this yearly event was part of their livelihood. I was fascinated with every step of turkey processing, from how they gathered them before the processing began, all the way to how they were bagged and put in the freezer awaiting pickup.
On this day, I worked with the younger two boys. Our job was to catch the turkeys in their holding pens and carry the birds over to an old stump in the middle of an adjacent pen. One boy would hold the turkey by the legs and extend his head over a knee-high block of wood while another boy would swing an axe and cut the head off. As soon as the head came off, the boy who was holding the turkey would toss it to the side, and the turkey would immediately stand up and run until it hit the edge of the pen before it would continue its decapitated run until it fell over and died. This never lasted more than 15 seconds or so, but it always happened.
I had no experience with this event…no frame of reference. So, like any normal boy seeking answers, I went home and told my story to my father about how the turkeys would run in a straight line, even though they had been decapitated.
My dad listened intently to me as I told my story, but as I neared the end, he began staring off and engaged himself in thought. As soon as I finished the story, he said, “The Japanese are the same way. When we would take their heads off with Bazookas as they ran down the beach, they would just keep running like the turkeys.”
I was not expecting that response, and, before that moment, I didn’t know that he had ever been in combat. Keep in mind that I am the youngest of 3 children, and at this point, my parents had been raising children continuously for 26 years.
My dad continued with stories from WWII, with a tone of sadness and remorse that I don’t remember him using before that moment.
“When I would go over to get ID off of their bodies after they stopped running and fell down, we would find pictures of their wives and children,” he would say. Then, he said no more.
The next day, my mother asked me, “what did you say to your father yesterday? He hasn’t said a word to me since then.” I repeated my story for her, and she had nothing to add, but when I told her what Dad had said, she went pale, as if she, too, had never heard that story about WWII.
On into the following day, my dad continued his behavior of not talking to anyone, and it wasn’t until he went back to work two days later that he began talking to us again.
My turkey story triggered my father to relive an event that he was not able to reconcile from his days in the South Pacific. I can only speculate as to what he remembered during those days of self-imposed isolation.
And from that moment until perhaps 20 years ago, I never heard another war story from him on any topic related to his military service. That said, I never did hear another combat story.
My father was taught to kill during WWII, and, in retrospect, he didn’t want that skill. It was imposed upon him by his heartfelt desire to save our country and join the fight to save our nation and its values. To bring it down to a single word, my father sacrificed. He sacrificed his internal state of peace and balance for us all to have freedom. He was irreparably damaged and had come to peace with it. Many of us experience the former. He needed his faith to reconcile it, and he did so in a marvelous way.
The story in the bible of Christ appearing after resurrection to reveal himself includes the story of Christ continuing to have holes in his hands from where the stakes used to crucify him were placed. Despite resurrection, when anything is possible and great promises are made of “perfect” bodies, it was not so.
My father’s response? “Of course, Jesus still had holes in his hands!”
My dad identified with a currently lost truth that real sacrifice includes a permanent loss. Too often, many of get duped into thinking that out choice to spend either our time or give of our money on a cause means that we are sacrificing. My dad knew better.
For my dad, the Christian message of sacrificing it all on the cross for others who don’t understand what they are doing made perfect sense. He knew that he was not OK nor ever would be OK with what he had been asked to do. Yet, at the depth of his soul, but I don’t think he would retract his choice or have done anything differently.
Today, on his casket is a flag of our country that he literally killed to protect during WWII. Despite modern protests of those think that they are doing a “good thing” for our country, they don’t sacrifice in the true sense of the word. They still get their money care of childish lawsuits and restitution for their hurt feelings. They still get their time back, even though they falsely attempt to convince us that they don’t. They get their moments of glory on social media and act as if they did it to “draw attention to the problem.”
My dad would have none of that. Indeed, this one story represents more attention that his entire life has rendered. My dad didn’t do social media and didn’t do public speaking to “draw awareness” of problems associated with culture where people kill and the problems associated with cultures where people don’t kill. After all, both are problematic, in their extremes.
Thank you for being a real hero during WWII, Dad. Thanks for not faking it like athletes who make lots of money and then seek to “draw awareness” of problems. And thanks for not pretending that their $1000 donation to a homeless shelter was a big deal. Time and money have ways to come back, and there were certainly no scabs of sacrifice on their bodies after these emotional moments.
You were a real hero.
For all those moments when people passed him by and said, “thank you for your service in WWII,” he seldom had much to say to them. It wasn’t because he was ungrateful; he didn’t have words to say what it took of him to serve and sacrifice.
After all, it is easy to thank the chicken for his gift of eggs. It is not easy nor even possible to thank the pig for his gift of bacon.
See you again in 40 years. Looking forward to some more stories.