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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Julia Collins book - My Father's War

This 2002 book was the first one that really focused on the combat trauma the WWII generation suffered and what it did to a family. Collins' father had left Yale in 1943 to join the Marines and returned after the war "emotionally and invisibly scarred". He never lived up to his early promise. She notes that the young boy who went to war came back a "soul weary man". Like so many of the children of the WWII generation, the author's realization of the impact of the war on her dad and her family did not come until her adulthood. The full understanding didn't occur until after her dad's death. This is a great read for insight into post war family dynamics and the effect on the children of a traumatized vet.


Mark Roberts said...

Probably not the right place to leave this response, but wasn't sure where else would work. Here goes. Regarding your intro to your blog, I don't think that all of the boomers have been mainly silent about their war legacy. I am one of those that never knew my war dad. He had abandoned his wife and three sons when I was only 3, in 1954. But somehow I lived his legacy. It started when I needed my mother's written consent to resign from ROTC at Syracuse University. That was when she first said to me, "I never did much support the military." That was in 1970. I had become an anti-war activist, and my mother reflected on the life she had experienced as a result of her lover's (my father) going off to be a paratrooper. He came back a "different" man. It's interesting now, with Obama being "able" to now proclaim his opposition to the war in Iraq, when only a year or two ago it would have been political suicide to stand up with such an attitude. I believe that many, if not most, of the anti-war activists of the 60's and 70's were children of troubled vets, who did know the price of war, and were willing then to stand up in opposition to it. How many boomers have, to this very momment, been unwilling to accept the true cost of war - its impact on individuals they actually know, family, themselves? It is the dark secret to admit to the awful destruction it wreaked at one's own home. That story is not glorious and patriotic. Now, I bet it is even more acceptable among the "patriotic" boomers to extend those emotions to aging boomer vets, and foreign children, half-siblings, anything to continue avoidance of the direct confrontation, and self admission of the destruction and sorrow that war brings to this world. When will patriotism be acceptable in and of itself, without the requirement that a true patriot must be a warrior?

Mark Roberts LaPierre

Carol said...

Thanks Mark. It is the "dark secret" that we are trying to shed light on. The myth of World War II as the Good War with the resulting happy families and good marriages is a fallacy - combat vets of all modern wars, including WWII have a much higher divorce rate than non-veterans.

Christine Slade said...

Here is something I wrote for myself last year.
Casualty of War

In the shadow of the Peaks of Otter stands a memorial to a day and a time that casts shadows to this day. Until my visit to the D Day National Memorial I didn’t fully realize that those shadows fell on me. I visited on a blustery day not unlike June 6, 1944. The flags were whipping, the spray was flying. The combined sounds were almost overwhelming. Or maybe it wasn’t just the sounds. I was about to understand a piece of my past. For reasons previously unknown, I had never put two and two together. The sum of the numbers was not four, but war. My father fought in this war. He did not triumph over his demons and upon my birth I became a casualty of war. I know little about him. My childhood memories of his visits include chips and soda and ice cream. And standing on top of his highly polished shoes dancing to the tune he was singing…Tennessee Waltz. I couldn't help noticing the tight crease in his pants. He would hock his watch to have his clothes cleaned and pressed. He was a handsome well put together man when I met him on rare occasions. They are mingled with the adult knowledge of his alcoholism and drug addictions. I can't escape the visual picture of the disfiguring surgery on his face which rendered him unable to eat and speak. Too much drink combined with too much smoking made him one of five men who had the same disfiguring surgery in a VA hospital in Connecticut on the same day. He eventually died of the cancer that ate away his face. The statue of The Lady of Trevieres at the memorial brought all of that slamming into focus. Before he died he let me know that one of my few cherished pictures of me as a child was taken at a foster home.

Perhaps there is a reason that I, like so many veterans of war, have buried memories that are too painful to face.

Perhaps my mother was also a casualty of this war. It is often said that this war changed lives in an irrevocable way. It would explain the mental illness that encroached upon her at the time of her marriage to my father. Her first, loving provider of a husband died of tuberculosis. In her late thirties, as a lonely widow and mother of children in their late teens, she met a man severely damaged by war. If he had sustained physical injuries, it is unknown to me. That he was severely damaged is an understatement. That my mother became damaged in the process of relationship with him is evidenced by the abuse she inflicted on her new young family. She had two different families both in time frame and experience. Watching their mother change so drastically made my half sister and brother a casualty of the same war. The shadows lengthen.

And yet the other day, sunlight dispersed shadows for just a moment. That sunlight came in the form of a WWII veteran. He is about the same age as my father would be had he lived. The smile was warm; the strength of heart was very evident. The stability he chose as a response to war brought hope to this war orphan. The tears we shared healed memories. The shared respect of recognizing each other as veterans of war brought strength to us both. We will both visit the memorial again. The vet will volunteer another day. I will go soon with my own son who is close to the age of my father when he met my mother. My son will go as a former soldier and war history buff. We both will go with the knowledge that I have survived the war of having a cancerous tumor removed. Like my new found veteran friend, I too choose stability as a response to war.

carolsv said...


That is a very moving essay.