My dad, Gordon Fossum – Dad would cajole us kids into scratching his back and would figuratively divide his back into a tic-tac-toe board of nine squares numbered across and
then direct us to his itches. “Right in the middle of 2,” he’d say, or “Right on the line between 7 and 8.” I think his Purple Heart scar was in thelower right corner of square # 6. Many times I scratched it, fingered it, rubbed it, and had questions I couldn’t even find words for. Like so many, he didn’t talk about the war much. During one conversation I found out that it was flying shrapnel that had wounded him during a confrontation with the enemy in thePacific arena of WW II. I sure wish I’d captured that conversation because I think he went into details, most of which I’ve forgotten. I was older by then, and I do remember us talking about the sheer terror he felt.
Years later, 1968, to be exact, in
the middle of theDemocratic National Convention in Chicago, we had ano ther war-related conversation, this time by phone. I was in the city, and he was ranting against Vietnam War protesters. When I told him I was one of them, he hung up on me. Upset and hungry for reconciliation, I took the next commuter train out to my hometown, to him. We did our best, but it wasn’t pretty.
I’ve always felt like Dad’s war experience killed something in his soul. I wonder how much it fueled his alcoholism. Maybe not that much, considering that his fa
ther was alcoholic, too. Of course, Grandpa Fossum fought in WW I…
My maternal grandfa
ther, Kenneth Cristy – Grandpa Cristy and I never talked about his war experiences in France in WW I, but I have copies of letters that he wrote to Clara Nelson, his swee theart back in Wisconsin. He wrote something like, “Don’t forget me while I’m gone. If you find someone else, I’ll be in a hard place.” She didn’t. She became my Grandma Cristy.
John – I knew this delightful man in rural
in Chester County, Pennsylvania the1980s. I had moved there, and we went to church toge ther. On a visit to his home on church business, he told me about being among thefirst troops to enter Nagasaki (or was it Hiroshima?) after theatomic bomb blast. Unimaginable. He shook his head a lot. I remember him talking about sitting safely in his nice home nearly 40 years later telling about such horror, incredulous that it ever could have happened.
A guy in
the waiting room – Again in PA, ano ther WW II vet. My toddler and I spent most of a morning with him while our cars were being worked on. He talked his head off about his war experiences. When themanager told him his car was ready, we said goodbye, but after paying, he came back to us and took my hand in his, tearfully thanking me for listening; he said h’ed never told anyone else those stories. He pressed a $10 bill in my hand and told me to go get some lunch for me and my baby.
Bob – Recently returned from combat duty in
Vietnam. I can’t remember how we got connected, through a bulletin board notice, I think, but he gave me a ride from where I was in college, to home, Waverly IA on a cold winter night in 1968. Side by side in his Jeep, we drove through Ringwood IL thedark for hours. This was our first meeting, and yet, before long, detailed, sickening horrors of his time in Nampoured forth. I was strongly opposed to thewar by this time, radicalized at , but did not fully admit to that. How I felt for him and admired him…and deeply regretted that his courage and service seemed to be spent for a lost cause. Wartburg College
What veterans are special to you?