Band of Fathers

Maybe it was just a coincidence that my father bought a house near WWII veterans like himself; maybe there were so many of them that it couldn’t be avoided. However, none of that mattered to me as a child. What counted was the subtle influence those men had; it changed my life and I didn’t even know it.

Like most children, I thought only the neighborhood mothers mattered as they were the only people around all day. I never gave much thought to their husbands who walked out alone to their cars each day and disappeared to work at a wide variety of post-war occupations. Today, as a veteran myself, I can appreciate the fact that these men hadn’t even served together, and that their experience of war differed vastly. It just makes it all the more wonderful that they all came together for me back then.

We were closest to two other families, so I knew that Alice’s husband had been an infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge and that Mary’s husband served as a radioman. My own father had been a lineman. The only thing they had in common was kissing their loved ones goodbye. Like all soldiers, they expected bad food and rough seas but hadn’t expected to trade their naïve youth for a world-weary look that would take a long time to wear off, if ever. None of us kids ever considered that the “sweet dreams” their mothers had tucked them in at night with had been replaced with shell-shock and images that haunted their sleep. Still, they rejoiced upon their homecomings and made plans for the future. Infantryman labored in a factory sweeping floors, took night classes and moved up. Radioman used his GI Bill to earn a medical degree, and my dad, well, he sold hardware.

These men worked, barbecued, upgraded their bathrooms, bought cars and cut their lawns. They found time to spawn a neighborhood full of little miracles that ran down sidewalks to greet them as they walked in slow paces back up to their front doors every night, hoping for dinner. There came a day when my dad’s steps got too slow and he went away to the VA hospital. While our mother stayed there by his side, his mother watched over us, or so we thought. We didn’t know the whole neighborhood had been quietly placed on high alert.

Babysitting jobs were offered to my sister; the doctor and his teeming brood needed it the most. One night, however, she felt sick and he offered to take a look at her before she walked home. It turned out that it was her appendix. He rushed her into surgery in the nick of time, but that wasn’t the only miracle that night. My mother never got a bill from him for that surgery, and that was lucky. Soon, her Bill, our father, came into his rest and then the woes under our roof really began. Mother’s grief was paralyzing; it was hard to know how to help. The factory man, as commander of his own small troop, sent his wife on this sacred mission.

“You’ve got your little girls…you gotta pull yourself together,” she coaxed gently. After more tears, together they reverently took Dad’s suits off their heavy wooden hangers and took his hat off the shelf; out of sight and out of mind. Then, delicately, she helped push other things into their place to squelch the echo of fifteen years of marriage disappearing. Later, still watching our roof, her husband noticed it was looking bad and charged us next to nothing to replace it. When it was still hard for us to pay, he accepted the extra wheelbarrow Dad had left behind as payment, pushing it up the road to mix cement for his own sidewalk. In that way, Dad was there to help his family for having helped us.

As I recently clutched my first grandchild in my arms, I remembered my father and that band of soldiers that helped to watch over their fallen brother’s family. In no small part they had preserved me for this day. While there is nothing good about war, there was something of greatness that had come into those men who began as young brothers and became fathers. Theirs was a soulful camaraderie which, forged in suffering, stretched and energized their souls into simple actions which have blessed me all these years. Someday I will tell this young man about his grandfather and his comrades; I will tell him how priceless the gift is that is made from blood and tears.

Kathy L. Baumgarten is a retired Air National Guardsman and writes for AMRA News, quarterly publication of the American Military Retirees Association, as well as a weekly column in the Lake Champlain Weekly (www.lakechamplainweekly.com). “Strictly A Loner: My Life and Times with Plattsburgh’s Poorest Millionaire,” is her story about life with the secret millionaire and veteran that came with her house, and is available at www.strictlyaloner.com.

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7 Comments to “Band of Fathers”

  1. I can speak about that Brotherhood that was better than any Brotherhood out there. My Husband and I were both aD he was stationed at the Naval Hospital on Camp Lester in Okinawa and I was on Camp Hansen on Okinawa with III MEF, HQ, BAS, 7th Communication BN.
    My husband was killed a Okinawain Taxi driver late for work blew through the stop sign hitting my husband while he was riding his motorcycle. Steve was a Motor Cycle Safety Instructor, the other riders said that there was nother Steve could do to avoid the accident.
    My Marines, and 2 families that were great friends of ours took care of me.. the 2 Mothers also AD would take turns spending 24/7 with me until I cam back to the States to bury my Husband, When I got back to Okinawa. They stayed with me again. my Marines and my 1stSgt helped me along with the family friends… packed me up and moved me to a cheaper off base house in 3 hours… I fed those Marines and gave out hugs got many hugs in return. They checked on me all the time.. built a ramp so I could pull my motorcycle into the house during typhoons. as soon as all clears were given you would see 1-2 drive out to check on me. I can not forget what my Military family did for me. There are not enough Thank Yous…. or enough hugs…

  2. I can speak about that Brotherhood that was better than any Brotherhood out there. My Husband and I were both aD he was stationed at the Naval Hospital on Camp Lester in Okinawa and I was on Camp Hansen on Okinawa with III MEF, HQ, BAS, 7th Communication BN.
    My husband was killed a Okinawain Taxi driver late for work blew through the stop sign hitting my husband while he was riding his motorcycle. Steve was a Motor Cycle Safety Instructor, the other riders said that there was nother Steve could do to avoid the accident.
    My Marines, and 2 families that were great friends of ours took care of me.. the 2 Mothers also AD would take turns spending 24/7 with me until I cam back to the States to bury my Husband, When I got back to Okinawa. They stayed with me again. my Marines and my 1stSgt helped me along with the family friends… packed me up and moved me to a cheaper off base house in 3 hours… I fed those Marines and gave out hugs got many hugs in return. They checked on me all the time.. built a ramp so I could pull my motorcycle into the house during typhoons. as soon as all clears were given you would see 1-2 drive out to check on me. I can not forget what my Military family did for me. There are not enough Thank Yous…. or enough hugs…

  3. Billy Carr (USNR) says:

    This is one of the most heart rendering stories I have ever read. Bless you for sharing it. My father was in the U.S. Navy during the war and spent most of the war in the South Pacific where he was injured on the U.S.S. Dixie. He suffered a debilitating back injury. By the mid fifties, most of his time was in the hospital and became unable to provide for his family. My mother made up for this by working for many years raising 11 children from 12 births, of which the older ones helped the younger ones and as a family, we survived. After many years of intense pain, several surgeries, my dad finally gave in and passed in 1999. Not a day goes by that I do not think of him or my mother who passed in 2007. Of the seven boys and five girls, I have lost four brothers, of which three passed away before they were 18. Thanks for listening.

  4. Lilly Harper says:

    I am a disabled vet…I wanted to thank you for this article. It touched me. I come from a family of vets…every generation back to my great grandfather and some beyond that. Vets have always been there to support us whether they served with our family or not. They become like a second family…a family that often understands our ptsd, anxieties and quirks better than our blood sometimes does. Blessings to you military family from ours!

  5. Susan Beech says:

    Those were great times in American history. Now our veterans have to watch our government fight each other while their memorial parks are shut down.

  6. Marianne LeBlanc says:

    What a lovely story. This reminded me of my dad, a WWII veteran, who was very proud to have served his country.

  7. Donna says:

    very touching story; I didn’t lose my dad as early as either of you but I’m not sure but what in some ways it would have been easier than to see him now with his steps getting slower and being in the hospital 3 times this past year; wish he/we had a neighborhood of veterans and maybe we could have; I understand their homes are very nice; maybe it’s time; we just hate to give him up to one of them or maybe I just wish we had a neighborhood to watch over my grandchild while I would go be with him or maybe I should just go anyway like I did before while my other one was in the hospital but it just seemed different then since she was; I just don’t know