“Get Down. GET DOWN.”
I was 8 years old and my Dad was screaming, “Get Down. Get Down.” I dropped to the floor in our kitchen, frightened by the desperate fear in his shouting.
He jumped out of his easy chair and crashed into our black and white TV. The TV smashed into the wall putting a huge dent in the plaster and my Dad collapsed to the floor.
My Mom came running, “Don, what’s the matter? Are you O.k?”
My Dad jumped up, shouting, “Lookout, in-coming.” He grabbed my Mom and pulled her to the floor. She started to cry. I started to cry. My little brother started to cry.
My Dad was shouting orders. I could hear the gunfire in his words and see the fear in his eyes. I cowered in a corner.
Moments before, my Dad had been sleeping restlessly in his easy chair. Sometimes, when he had one beer too many, his dreams would carry over into our world. I was afraid when he drank because he never looked like himself. His eyebrows raised and his eyes were hard.
In our kitchen, amidst the shouting, the war played out again. My Mom tried to calm him and eventually the battle would pass and he would sleep, in his chair.
I didn’t understand.
I hadn’t seen war.
My buddies and I watched Combat on TV and played army in the vacant lot down the street.
My Dad fought in World War II and never talked about it with me.
Once, when a friend of his came over and they were drinking, I heard him tell about driving a convoy truck over the mountains in Burma. They were attacked and the steering wheel of the truck came off. He saw me watching and made me leave the room.
Another time I remember hearing him say his transport ship was hit by a German torpedo in the Mediterranean.
I don’t know what happened, but I knew it was bad, because he would scream and shout and swear and give orders in his dreams. He drank too much and I was afraid when he did. My Mom said he was different after the war.
Today I understand more about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I can see how the horrors of war continue to rage in the hearts and minds of returning soldiers. My Dad fought it the rest of his life. He died in 1986.
Sometimes, in my dreams I still see him. The last time, he was on the back of a train pulling out of a station. He waved to me. His smile was kind and loving. His face was soft and his eyebrows weren’t raised. I waved back.
I knew my Dad loved me. I knew he worked hard to build a life for his family, one where we would not have to experience the horrors he did. I didn’t know him before the war. But, I can see how the ghosts of war haunted him.
Today, I honor my Dad. I honor his sacrifice. I respect his service. I value his training and I treasure his love. So much of who and what I am, I owe to my Dad and so many others who made and make the mortal sacrifices required to bless their family’s lives.
God Speed, Dad.