Tribute to a Veteran
My dad was a World War II veteran, but he never served on the front lines of any major—or even minor—battle. His service to his country started at a summer military camp when he was in his late teens. As I child, I was impressed by the faded photograph of him, dressed in his uniform. I think he thought (as many young men and women still do) that a steady job with three square meals a day was preferable to living in poverty, never certain when—or if—the next meal would come.
But Dad’s perceptions changed radically the day of bayonet practice. When the drill sergeant ordered him to drive his bayonet into a dummy dressed like the enemy and twist it, he knew that he could never kill another human being, no matter how seemingly “just” the cause. Dad’s short-lived love affair with the military was over.
Not long after that first bayonet practice, Dad announced to his parents that he was going ask his draft board to classify him as a conscientious objector. My grandmother was so distraught that she threatened to kill herself, but neither her histrionics nor the local Methodist minister’s vehement opposition to Dad’s decision could dissuade Dad from following his conscience. Despite the “war fever” sweeping the country, he convinced his draft board that he was indeed opposed to all wars on religious grounds and he was drafted into Civilian Public Service.
For the duration of World War II, Dad served both as an orderly in a hospital in Connecticut and as a “human guinea pig.” As part of a medical experiment, he volunteered to be injected with hepatitis virus. The photograph of my emaciated father smiling wanly while lying in a hospital bed is indelibly etched in my mind. Because of that experiment, he was never allowed to donate blood to the Red Cross, although he longed to be part of that organization’s disaster-relief efforts.
In popular images, heroes almost always wield deadly weapons. My dad wielded the weapon of love. After the war, he went to seminary and became a Methodist minister. He spent the rest of his life building bridges between people, not destroying them. He was the greatest hero I ever met.
My dad. The veteran.