Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Veteran Story

Eleven. Eleven. A day we honor those who have served our country in times of war and peace,  those men and women who gave themselves over to something bigger than themselves.  My Dad is one of those people who joined the US army.  But Dad wasn't born in the US, he was born in East Germany.  Some of his earliest memories involve fleeing to the woods around their town to escape bombs dropped from American planes.  Yet he found his way to Uncle Sam's doorstep.  And ran into some future veterans along the way.

I think about this story on Veterans Day, about the first Americans Dad ever met - US servicemen.  (This excerpt is from his memoirs, multi-year project he and I have labored through together.)

"Eventually, all bombardments and artillery stopped, and the rain of bombs and fire was
replaced by hundreds of thousands of leaflets floating and fluttering peacefully from

allied planes. The leaflets advised residents to surrender and lay down all weapons and

receive the American occupation forces. Our neighborhood was covered with paper

and we scurried around to collect the excess as cheap firewood. All civilians were

also instructed to prominently hang out white sheets of surrender from their houses

and apartments. Each house in our neighborhood quickly sprouted a white bed sheets

tacked to one of the windows. For the sake of our lives, we did what we were told:

display a white flag of surrender or be prepared to die. Not all in our neighborhood were

supportive of the new occupation. There were more than a few die-hard Nazi supporters

in our neighborhood who hung their white flags under duress, with tears in their eyes.

However, the majority of us were more than glad to surrender with the symbolic white

flag if it meant that the bombing would stop and the war would be over. We just wanted

to start living life again, as normally as we could amid piles of destruction. Our dreams

were understandable, but how does a family, a community start living again when a

sizable part of the city lay in ruins, with no food, no jobs, no infra-structure,

no water, no electricity, no stores, no public transportation, and

few glimmers of hope?

A day or two after white flags bloomed from neighborhood windows, the first convoy

of trucks loaded with American infantry slowly moved into our neighborhood.

They stopped only fifty yards from our house at the end of the street where Bernie and I

happened be outside playing. We eyed them carefully and found that they looked very

friendly - not at all like the cruel enemy they were accused of being. There must have

been at least twenty of them on the first truck. With smiles on their faces, they waved

for us to come over. We cautiously approached the green-clad soldiers as they started to

unload the trucks. We were in fearful awe, as if toy soldiers and trucks from a strange

land had materialized in front of us. One of the soldiers jumped off the back of the

truck and grabbed my shoulder in a friendly way, as if I had helped him off the truck.

He smiled and said something to Bernie and I in English, which of course we did not
understand. But the language barrier quickly evaporated as he handed my brother

and I a chocolate bar and a stick of Wrigley’s chewing gum. We were delighted by this exchange in the international language of candy! We quickly devoured the treats,

savoring every sweet calorie in our sustenance-deprived tummies. The soldiers laughed
and smiled a lot, which, combined with their “peace offering” was just what we needed

to allay our fears that the Americans were a ruthless enemy. That short meeting at the

end of our street was a tentative but positive beginning to the American occupation of our

Dad's school picture in E Germany

Dad, United States Army

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