Wednesday, March 17, 2004

War and My Dad

An article in the Everett Herald today is prompting me to write about my Dad and WW11. As previously written, my Dad died in 1980. If he were still alive, he'd be 81 now and I'd like to think he would have loved to come and visit me and fish for salmon. But then I see a bald eagle out my window several times a week doing just that so maybe.....?!

The article is entitled, "Britons mark "Great Escape" anniversary" and it describes how in March of 1944, Allied air force officers planned and carried out an escape from a German Prison Camp. Only 3 made it to freedom; 73 were recaptured; and 50 were killed. The name of the camp was Stalag Luft III located in what is now Zagan, Poland. During WW11, this was part of Germany.

I grew up hearing about Stalag Luft III and NOT because they made a movie about this event starring Steve McQueen when I was a little girl. No, my Dad was there. He was not there during the Great Escape but later. In August of 1944, my Dad was only 21; he was an officer in the Air Force and he was flying bombing missions out of England and over Germany. He was the bombedier sitting in the glass noses of the B-17's. His plane was shot down over water and I can never remember if it was the North Sea or the English Channel. The person next to him on the plane was blown away and at age 21, my Dad with no life vest which had been punctured by shrapnel, parachuted into the dark waters. He always credited his high school in Montana requiring the ability to swim for graduation for saving his life.

The Germans pulled him out of the water and sent him to Stalag Luft III. He used to give mesmerizing lectures and talks about his time there. One of the stories I remember is that they had no boards on their beds to sleep on--just one for their heads, hips and feet. Six months before my Dad arrived, "prisoners...excavated three tunnels 30 feet underground, shored up with bedboards...". Yes, the article brought back memories of my Dad's stories and fortunately, he kept a diary so his experiences will never be forgotten by our family.

My father was marched between camps--he was never quite sure where he was, of course. But he was held prisoner by the Nazi's from August of 1944 until May of 1945 when the war ended. He was thrown back into society, and back into college and expected to live a normal life. Our government then made a "mistake" and sent my Dad to fly bombing missions over North Korea. They let him come home when they realized he was a former Prisoner of War and was not required to go. I realize now that he suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome that left him moody and depressed at times. We had a good family life but the effect of WAR was always there in some way.

My Dad saw the Viet Nam war as a mistake. He didn't want my brother or my boyfriend to go and as a teacher, he helped one of my friends claim Concientous Objector status. If he were alive today, he would think the Iraq war was a monumental mistake and a disastrous mess. I know my Dad loved this country with all of his heart and he was proud to have served during WW11; he certainly would believe we need to defend ourselves. But, my Dad was intelligent and he would think we need to be really creative to overcome terrorism. He abhored dishonesty--especially about something as horrible as WAR. Traditional WAR hurts good people for generations and generations and WAR does not cause PEACE.