May 29, 2006
Vicarious Memories of War
Posted by Gordon Smith

My father joined the Navy at age 17. He served during World War II in an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. He later served in Viet Nam.

I was born in a Naval hospital in Bremerton, Washington. Shortly thereafter, my family moved to San Diego, where my father was an instructor at the Naval facility for six years. My earliest memories are speckled with military references.

My father is 80 years old now, and his health is failing. He is still a great storyteller, but he never tells stories of war. Seeing him attempt that once or twice when I was very young, I understood, without him actually being able to say the words, that war is a horrible thing. Recently, prompted by questions from my son, he again tried to describe some of his experiences. But he didn't get very far. The memories of friends lost still make him cry.

A few years ago, I visited Normandy and saw various D-Day sites, including a British cemetery. Reading the inscriptions on the tombstones, written 60 years before by heartbroken family members, I wept for a very long time.

All of my "memories" of war are like this. Vicarious. Gathered mostly from books and movies. I am humbled by thoughts of my father and others who have lived through or died in war. Unfortunately, more of these are created every day.

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