Monday, November 1, 2010

Never Forgotten

In remembrance of my grandfather, a veteran of the 1st World War. He was gassed in the trenches and spent a year recuperating in a hospital with damaged lungs before returning to his family in Canada.

My father was a vet of the 2nd World War, having single-handedly liberated Holland. Well, he was a great story teller. He tried to join the army at age 17, the legal age, but they turned him away, believing that he was 15 trying to look 13. "Come back when you start to shave, sonny."  A year later they finally let him in.

Basic training was a challenge... clothes were made for men who had already finished growing. His drill sargent kept complaining that he needed to step closer to his razer.  His rifle was bigger than he was and the dummy bag he was supposed to charge with his bayonet-fixed rifle actually fought back.

My dad was a driver in a three-man reconnaissance vehicle and their job was to take recon missions in advance of the regular army. He drove through towns that were supposed to be deserted by the retreating German army but he drove really fast, in order to reduce the chance that a pot-shot would actually hit the vehicle. If the town was empty, they would call up the rest and often they would have to hold their position until relieved.

Then there was the time he arrested a German soldier with his finger. He apparently forgot his gun in the RPV but decided to fake it. He walked around behind a tall man in civilian clothing, who had been pointed out to him by a Dutch family, stuck his finger in the man's back and told him to "März, schnell!". It was only as they passed the RPV that my dad's gunner noticed the finger and threw down a pistol so that my dad could complete his arrest.

Or, how about the time they had to perform door-to-door searches of a town in Holland that was supposed to be deserted. In basic training, they were taught to sidle up to a door, turn and kick the door open. With a loud yell, they were to pounce into the house, apparently scaring any occupents into immobility. Well, after a few empty houses, my dad performed the routine on yet another one. However, after he kicked the door and jumped into the room, he came face-to-face with three German soldiers. They were sitting at a table having bread and cheese, waiting for the Canadians to come so they could surrender. My dad froze but so too did the soldiers. He looked at them and they looked at him, then my dad took off out the door to report to his lieutenant.

Or the time my dad's lieutenant ordered my dad, all five foot nothing, to take the surrender of a six foot something German officer. My dad approached the soldier and watched this proud Aryan deflate, in recognition of his defeat to this diminutive Canadian.

The stories were hilarious as he told them and they became richer with the telling. There was only one story of his that touched on the heavier side of war, one that involved the wounding of his lieutenant in a fire-fight.

My dad always boasted that he was going to write a book about his stories, a book he was to call "How I One the War: One man's story but there's a million others." He did get his book written but it didn't turn out as we had hoped, a hilarious saga of his adventures during the war. Instead, he had hired a ghost-writer, who ended up writing a semi-autobiography of his life. Titled "Best Foot Forward", it chronicles his parents migration to Canada, his life in a family of 10 children, the war years, his careers in the Canadian Air Force, as a teacher and, finally, catching the political bug, eventually becoming Reeve of his town.

Dad made a couple of trips back to Holland for the anniversary dates of the ending of the war and spent his Remembrance Days recounting his stories to elementary children. He was 84 when he passed away, having lived a full, rich, and, to us, memorable life.

No comments: