My father died two years ago and missed hitting the one hundred-years-old mark by five months. My mother died six years prior and was his finest listener, especially when dementia entered her life. She would sit at the kitchen table, nod her head and recall long ago memories when he asked. Two years after she died, my brother, two sisters and I became his ears.
He was a World War II veteran, highly intelligent and drove for a general in the Army. He was exempt from serving due to being the youngest son to help my grandfather farm. One day, without my pregnant mother knowing, he enlisted. He said he felt it was his duty to go. Serving from April 1944 to May 1946, he wasn’t present for their first-born son’s birth, nor at his death and funeral eleven months later. My mother was only nineteen. Both she and my father never spoke of it.
My father latched on to his WW II memories, especially during his last years. We kids all listened patiently as he reiterated his stories over and over. His favorite referred to Koblenz, Germany. Others, besides us, also heard his war stories—relatives, friends and staff at the nursing home he lived in for his last two years. Unlike many veterans, my father was never in combat, and I’ve always wondered if that was the reason he so comfortably talked of the war and his experiences. At his funeral, he was given the twenty-one-gun salute. We, his children, cried. It was at that moment we truly realized the importance of his service and that of others. Dad, it’s Veteran’s Day. Just know we’re proud of you.