War never completely loses its hold over its victims.
My father, Col. William T. Skaggs (ret.) is one of the WWII veterans you hear about, a part of the so-called “greatest generation” coined by Tom Brokaw. My dad does not accept that description, and refuses to acknowledge that he and his fellow troops did anything but what they had to do. He says they just did their job.
I never used to think of my father as a war hero, but he was and is. He has lived his entire post-war life continuing to wage the battles that he fought as a young infantry soldier in the 14th Armored Division, 62nd Infantry. Because he was so traumatized, he usually says very little about his wartime experiences. He just can not do it. Something inside of him locks up.
Children want to hear stories from their parents’ past, the mysterious and unimaginable time when we were not yet alive. But war places an emotional chokehold on many of its survivors which keeps them from being able to share those memories. Maybe that is for the best, because man’s inhumanity to man during war is probably not meant to be everyday knowledge–especially for children.
My dad has–finally, after years of prompting–told me a few of his war stories, while struggling to hold back the tears and the unbearable flashes of trauma that flood over him when he tries. One involved him unexpectedly getting trapped in a basement and being attacked in the dark by a dead German soldier’s Rottweiler. Another was about the pact that he and his buddies made agreeing to straighten out each other’s bodies in the event one of them was killed, to make sure their arms and legs did not freeze in the grotesquely awkward positions of death they had witnessed.
War’s grasp is so powerful that most of my father’s memories of it will go to the grave with him.
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