The War Is Almost Over

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I went to visit my father today at the Togus VA Hospital in Augusta Maine. Like all my other visits I first took Vinny for a walk around the grounds. It was an overcast day today, but still a beautiful day to be in Maine.

The grounds are a perfect example of what Maine has to offer. The streams, the trees and the spring flowers are what make this my home.

As I walked down a different road than I normally follow, my heart skipped a beat. As I continued on, my heart was crushed under the weight of the feelings that took over my being.

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I was so taken by that moment that I had to sit down on the grass. There is so much more than graves here, so much more than the people who died in service to us and this country. There is the sacrifice made by all those left behind. The wives, children, friends and others that lost a part of themselves when this person died.

Then there are the others, the ones whose battle never ended. The survivors with physical and mental pain and suffering that did not end on the battlefield. For some, surviving was only the beginning. Let me tell you about one such person.

Birth Certificate (2)

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Dad age 4

My father was born on April 28th, 1929 in Portland Maine. He grew up in a suburb called Riverton in a very modest home at 10 Tarbell Ave. My father talked about his younger days with a mix of longing for a return the adventure of riding motorcycles with his friends, juxtaposed with a resentment for the way he felt his father treated him. I think his father was just a strict man, and he just wanted the best from his children. Maybe he didn’t understand how to be a father. I’ll never know as he died when I was to young to remember him.

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My Grandfather Chester Pierce

My grandfather, Chester Pierce, had opened a business not long before my father was born called C.A. Pierce Company in Portland. This business started as a furniture restoration company, then eventually into the furniture sales store it is now, run by his great grandson Larry Pierce. I don’t know all the history, but I think my father was more interested in motorcycles and girls than furniture, and never became part of the company. My father lived in New Mexico before joining the Army and worked at a creamery and as a roofer. He told many stories of riding motorcycles in the desert, and many fights in local bars. I think he was the rebellious “James Dean” type in those days.

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He joined the Army on February 13, 1951 and was honorably discharged on May 25, 1956. He survived 6 months and 8 days in the combat zone in Korea, but like all who came back, part of him died as surely as those buried at Togus. He told a story of waking up one morning to every other man in his tent dead with his throat slit. “Psychological Warfare” they called it. Someone had slipped in during the night and killed them in their sleep. My father never got over living when the men right beside him died.

My father at about 15
My father at about 15

Some gave all, all gave some. I can think of no truer words to describe the plight of anyone that has gone to war. You see it in their eyes, the window to our souls. Something is missing, and in my fathers case I think it was the ability to connect with his children. I know he loved us, and we loved him, but I never felt like I had a Dad, just a father. It’s hard to explain, but I felt very alone as a child. I spent many hours by myself in Fort Williams, alone with my thoughts I dreamed about sailing away to distant shores filled with adventure. Such is the mind of an 8 year old boy longing for attention from his dad. Even though my father tried many times to do the “Dad” thing, I don’t think he knew how, just like his father.

Mom & Dad
Mom & Dad

All these years later when I look at him, I understand how hard that must have been on him also. I think about the times as an adult I didn’t make time for him when I know he wanted it, and I regret it very much. I was just like him even if I didn’t know it. Maybe there is some truth to the thought that we tend to follow the example put forth by our parents.

He was never one to shy away from responsibility. I learned from my father the drive to work hard, never ask for a handout when you could just work harder and get by. He gladly accepted the 3 children my mother had, then had 2 more of his own. He was never without a job, even with only an 8th grade education. We never felt poor even though we were close to it. He was “Old School”, and by that I mean he felt his duty was to provide the money, and my mother should raise the kids. That was the mindset of that generation.

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Acting silly on vacation

I grew up resenting him just like he did his father. Maybe for the same reasons. As an adult, now free from the influence of a poor lifestyle rife with drug use and other poor choices, I see him in a new light. Maybe he is a victim of circumstances as surely as I. He never felt connected to his father, and that led in part to his inability to connect with me. Maybe his experience in Korea only exacerbated the situation further. I don’t know for sure, but I do know it’s to late now to reverse my mistakes, and try to make up ground.

The reason for my visit was because my mother, sisters and both brother in laws went to see him 3 days ago on their 54th wedding anniversary. My mother called me afterwards very distraught at the state of his health. I called the hospital and spoke to his nurse. She explained his situation, and I said I would come home to see him.

Last fall at home
Last fall at home

My father has dementia along with PTSD from his tour in Korea. Its possible the dementia caused a slide in his condition a few days ago. He seemed to bounce back a little, but there is a marked difference in just the last month. The difference in the last year is alarming. Last fall he was starting to wander, and my concern was for his safety. We tried to get him into a home owned by an RN with another veteran. That lasted 3 days and she decided he was to much for her. He was moved to Togus at that time and has been there ever since.

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Taken today

This was never what I wanted for him. The pain I feel every time I see him leaves me feeling a little more weak and disheartened. I want so much to tell him how I feel, but every time I try I don’t think I’m saying it in a way he truly understands. I will never forgive myself for waiting so long, waiting till it’s to late.

I don’t think he will last much longer. His voice was so weak that I had to lean in to hear him today. One minute he was talking, the next he was falling asleep in the wheelchair. I helped him to his room, into bed and he fell asleep almost immediately.

As I write this, tears are streaming down my face as I think about his life and what he has endured. I remember all the times I could have been a better son, and now I must live with my lack of forethought. Maybe the lucky ones died in battle. Maybe, had he never come back, less people would have been affected by what happened to him and all the suffering he went through. I’m only human, and I don’t know.

What I do know is, when he dies, a big part of me will die with him. The part of me that wanted to play little league, and have my dad cheering from the stands. The part of me who wanted to go camping and fishing with him. The part of me who wanted him to teach me to ride a bike.

The part of me left, will never forget him. I will never forget how what happened to him, also happened to me and all of his family. I will never forget the man he was, and who I bet he wanted to be. I will do my best to live up to what he wanted, and hope he finds some peace soon. For him at least, the war is almost over. But not for us.

 

 

 

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46 thoughts on “The War Is Almost Over

  1. Very sensitively written. I’m sorry to hear of your father’s deterioration. Dementia is a terrible thief. My mother has it so I can relate to that part of your story. I have no experience of war trauma though – must be awful. I also think there’s a tendency to feel guilty when a loved one is nearing their end; it’s a natural human response I’m afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sad you’re sad. I’ve never been in your shoes, but I’m guessing you both did the very best you could with your lives, your hearts, your experiences, and your every single things.

    This is so beautifully written. It read like a book, a biography of a father. You are doing him justice by accepting him for who he is. You are honoring him by sharing his story.

    Dementia is a mean one. A memory stealer. Because of you, he isn’t forgotten. His service, his sacrifice, his hard word and the way he took care of his family, that is a core value that needs to be heard. I bet he’d be extremely proud.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Heartwritten and heartrending. The generation gap was never so acute, in my opinion as it was in ours. My father, who I adored but who was not ever the stereoptype treats-me-like-a-princess daddy I yearned for, came from a time when the stiff upper lip was dominant. Though he managed to be himself, the human in glimpses which I cherish, I know he struggled to be the relaxed role model I wanted and he came from a totally male environment (boarding school from aged 8 and thence into the navy as an officer at rising 18) … we were close, I loved him more than anything, ever but he could not be what I craved because he was born in 1927 and I was born in 1960. Simple. That you love yours is evident. That he loves you, I believe is not in question. Try not to dwell pn the might be’s that in reality couldn’t have and instead celebrate the man he was and still is locked deep in his own head and know make yourself proud because when you do that (and you do already) you make this man proud. And that, I believe is important to you.

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  4. I finished reading this with tears streaming down my face. For all the pain you feel for your dad now, for regrets and for the man that he was and could have been. And for things that run parallel in my own life now. Your dad sounds like a good man, he just didn’t know how to show affection the way you wanted and, as much you must want to turn back the clock and change things all you can do is move forward.

    My dad fought in the second world war which scarred him and I know he also grew up without affection. It was only after the birth of my daughter that he softened and I started to see the softer side of him. And then he died 6 months later when I was just starting to get to know him. So many regrets. It sounds as though your dad loved you in his own way, just as mine did, so never forget that. Even if you feel you can’t get through to him now, just being there speaks volumes. He knows you love him. That’s what matters. Thanks for sharing your story and honoring your father. A heartfelt post.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Imagine dinner and drinks in the cockpit while children swim with the dog in the shallow water beside the boat. Sleeping with the gental sway of the tide rolling in, waking to the best sunrise ever. Now imagine that every day!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Kiss his cheek for us and tell him THANK YOU for being in the Army. And that we’re sorry Korea was so hard.

        Prayers that he goes into the next war-free zone peacefully! Hope you are doing better. Losing those we love is so hard.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Guy, I can’t relate to any of the horror your Dad relives since his time in Korea, but looking at his “being silly” on vacation gives me the impression that his private war was and is eased, by being a husband and Dad.. And his battle with dementia is eased with his continued connection to those he loves.. You’ve changed so much in your life, I can’t help but believe he has had some part in that, directly or indirectly..
    Less people would have been affected in the way that they have been, had he died in battle, but his death would have had an impact on each person already in his life at that time..
    And you would never have been born.. That in itself would be sad..
    I suspect he’d agree 💛

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Once again, your amazing insight has deeply touched my heart. You are an amazing man to be able to express those things that weigh so heavily on your soul,in such a prolific manner. I would ask that you excuse my lack of “political correctness” in saying this:You have been through some shit! I want to thank you from the bottom of my cold, black heart (ha ha) for sharing your most intimate thoughts & feelings with me (and the world). Through your words, you inspire others (I’m sure I am not the only one!) to look within, touch those painful scars and begin to heal. Those dark shadows in my memories…ghosts of my past, are the things that have been the root of my self loathing. Your writing has turned the light on in that dusty attic, and helped to bring some of those ghosts out of the darkness.
    My heart is heavy after reading the words you have written, I feel your sadness, but I also feel the light of your uplifted spirit. It’s amazing to feel the release that comes with understanding. I guess that’s called Wisdom? You are a very special man! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s only one way to let go the past, deal with the present pains and let go fear, face these difficulty’s head on. ($500 an hour shrink?) I think I’ll come out of this a better person having done it myself, with words of encouragement from others doing, or have done the same.

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  7. That is a beautiful piece of writing, John and your Dad would be proud of you. My father in law spent the whole was in a prisoner of war camp in East Germany. The survivors were never the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sir: U don’t know me, but I know a bit about ur father. U have been reading and following my blog, @ livefree2sailfast.com

    I’m overcome with emotion reading about your father. I am an active duty Marine and veteran with PTSD and have two young children. I deployed to the Middle East multiple times. I don’t know what to say but thank you to your father. The memories he must live with haunt his soul like mine haunt mine every single day. Sailing is a godsend for me, I’m happy and peaceful out there. If ur ever on the west coast, I’d love to buy u a cold one and just listen if u need it- Chad

    Liked by 2 people

    1. First let me thank you for your service. The sacrifices you and others have made to preserve our freedoms are not lost on me even though there are many in this country who seem to have lost their moral compass. It’s good that there is help now for people trying to cope with what they have been through. I have seen first hand what it can do to someone. You are a hero to all who believe in what this country was founded on, and to those here that criticize our country I say, don’t let the border gate that Donald Trump builds hit you in the ass on the way out!

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  9. Wow!! What a very touching and moving post. Whilst there is probably no point trying to talk to him about those things now, such as the regrets, being by his side, loving him, is the biggest gift you can give your dad right now. I, too, have never had much of a relationship with my dad, as a child or an adult. I believe a lot of my issues as an adult are linked to this. It is very much a cycle, isn’t it? You live, what you know. My parents had a bloody awful marriage, they were married for 33 miserable years. As an adult I haven’t been able to have a good relationship with a partner, because I never saw or learnt what a good relationship is or looks like. I have raised my 2 kids entirely on my own. I left my ex husband when I was pregnant with my daughter, who is 12 now. I hope I have broken this generational cycle for them, somehow. Much love and peace to you, my friend. X

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My father was born the same year as your father, and while dad has been gone for 10 years, he had a difficult time showing emotions until later in life. I wonder if it wasn’t manly to show emotions during those years he grew up, in that specific time. There were stigmas associated with seeking help from a psychologist; people simply dealt with it when something happened. There were social and behavioral codes and that is what was followed. I think my father did not know how to show emotion. Maybe your father was a bit the same.

    Your post was very well written and even though I can feel your pain, I think he’ll be with you as you said, and as Jess said, the heart knows. I firmly believe that. Thank you for sharing such a touching and private story. All the best to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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