November 11th, 2010

gamiila sig #2

Mon père, ce héros

In many countries around the world, today has been a day for remembering the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and civilians in times of war. My own country, not having been involved in World War I, knows no such tradition, but still, I have been thinking of all the young men who have ever been sent out to fight in a foreign country and either not made it back, or returned profoundly changed by the experience. My father was one of the latter.

He served as a sergeant 1st class in Korea from 1950 to 1953, commanding an international company seconded to the Eighth United States Army as part of the UN intervention force. He was involved in some of the heaviest fighting, but was only injured once when a phosphorus grenade exploded in front of him and left him with a gruesome scar on his right shin. He lived through some terrible battles, but lost many of his men; he remembered each and every one of them and lived with survivor guilt for the rest of his life.

It wasn't until late in life that my father started to relate some of his experiences to me. I'm sad to say that I wasn't always receptive to his stories; Dad would tell of truly terrible things, of killing people and mutilating Chinese corpses, of streams of refugees and women and children begging for food and shelter, of visits to brothels when on leave...things no daughter needs to imagine her father being involved in. He would eulogise the war and would claim with tears in his eyes that his time in Korea was without a doubt the very best time in his entire life, he had never felt so alive...At the time, it struck me as strange that he would say that, but now I understand that he must have felt more alive because he lived in constant danger.

Dad was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, one of only a handful of non-US military personnel to be honoured in this way during this conflict. He was immensely proud of it; none of his other medals meant as much to him, and yet he didn't think he'd done anything especially heroic to deserve it (he'd gone back into a minefield while under heavy enemy fire to help a wounded comrade out, and then as soon as he'd got him to safety, had gone back in again to get the man's blown-off foot - new boots were scarce commodities, it would seem, and at the time it must have seemed to make sense to him and his commanding officer who recommended him for his actions to risk his life for a boot).

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