July 4th: the real Fathers’ Day
That designated day in June seems a weak contrived player: Father’s day. It limply follows the trumpeted glorious Mother’s Day. Feels stuck in as a last minute thought. No sticky cards or arts and crafts made in Pre-K as school is out. Greatly advertised by merchants: one of their last big chances to pull buyers in and coax money out of their pockets until the back-to-school sales.
July 4th is the real Father’s Day. It’s the day I think of my dad – and appreciate what he and other fathers did.
He was the youngest of a large poor farming family born in an East Texas dog trot house. So poor the boys carried their shoes to the steps of the two room school-house – to be put on just before entering. So poor the children worked along the local field hands pulling cotton and produce in order to earn money. A family that in later years gathered every July 4th to eat watermelon, shoot fireworks, and talk on the old porches. Although everyone had long since left the farm, they never really left. It was a mandated family event. Cousins and dogs. We still all feel the pull although only one of the brothers, almost 100 yrs, survives.
It’s really tied to Independence day.
You see, being the youngest son of a widow, the army wouldn’t allow my father to enlist during WW II – until after Pearl Harbor. A compassionate officer delayed his overseas shipping orders a few days until his son was born. Ironically he ended up in some of the worst battles of the war including the Battle of the Bulge with the 42nd Rainbow Division. Older, and ironically a crack shot, he became a medical tech. Medical staff didn’t carry guns. He was there when the call came into the medical tent that the battle line was not holding and “if you stay, you’ll be speaking German shortly.” There were wounded men on the table. The surgeon and medical team chose to continue working. Somehow the German tanks ran out of gas and the soldiers on the front lines stopped the surge. Another time when there were wounded men stranded and surrounded by German troops, he volunteered to be part of the rescue mission. They were lost behind enemy lines for days and presumed dead. He was one of the first medical staff into Dachau. Horrible memories of man’s inhumanity to man remained throughout his life. Bodies stacked like firewood on abandoned trains. Walking skeletons. Lamp shades made of human skin. Still the 42nd was not done: moving on to major cities of the German heartland. His medical team did not force German families out of their homes when they occupied towns. He remembered the fear in their faces, as he asked if it was OK to take shelter in their barn. The family and their children peaked out the curtains watching the soldiers washed their clothes. When the soldiers realized the family was existing on a thin broth for meals, the Americans shared their rations. Dad said the man broke down in tears and said “We were told the American troops were monsters and would kill us all. And we would be better dead. And here you share what food you have.” So with the wounds of war still oozing, humanity began a slow crawl back to normalcy. The medics were given permission to treat the locals after their troop duties were done. They had limited supplies available – used lots of those old fashion farm remedies – like Epsom salt soaks will cure almost anything.(Lots of stories, but those for another time.) Finally, the WWII soldiers returned home…without whining or complaints. Tough guys coming home to families. Medals put aside.
Being a former Aldine ISD elementary school principal, he eventually went back into education, first as a teacher, then as a Houston ISD high school principal. He spoke Spanish which made him readily acceptable on the East side. Spent the rest of his life shepherding other people’s children. He, like his father, saw education as the key to a better life – for all children. As the founding fathers of this country also believed.
Before there was a country, there were families struggling to survive. Men risking all by bringing their families to a wild land in search of a better life. Men operating on trust in their own abilities – and faith. Men willing to fight for ideals. Willing to stand for others too weak or unable to take up arms. Men who were simply fathers – of families and of those children yet unborn. Brave men. Fathers willing to die in the fight. For freedom and the opportunity for a better life for all. It continues today.
So tonight, during the grand fireworks and stirring anthems, I’ll look up and say, “Thanks, dad. Happy Father’s Day.”
Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge.
Read more: “Talking Mules, Mines, and WW II”