Friday, May 20, 2011

Learning About My Father the Warrior

June, 1950, North Korean soldiers poured across the 38th parallel, the arbitrary dividing line between North and South Korea. By the time they stopped they had smashed through the South Korean capital of Seoul and had the NATO and South Korean troops bottled up at Pusan, in the southern part of South Korea.

In March of 1952, my father, Marty’sHusband Senior, sailed across the Sea of Japan and made his way up the South Korean peninsula to the front lines just north of Seoul. My dad was a forward observer directing fire for the army artillery. His trip to the front took days, the months he spent in the holes, trenches and bunkers must have felt like years.

At the end of April 2011 I had the privilege of accompanying my father to Austin, Texas so the state senate could recognize and honor veterans, heroes of the Korean War. I stood in the Lt. Governor’s reception hall and ate breakfast with these men, these heroes of a war no one remembers and I was honored to be in their presence and proud that my father was a member of this brave and aging group.

My Dad, like so many soldiers, never really talked much about his experience in the war. I think he was so busy taking care of his family and his job that he didn’t have the time or bandwidth to remember what a life changing event the war had been for him. He very successfully managed to compartmentalize his memories until he retired and became involved with his own band of brothers.

After he retired he got involved with the national Korean War Veterans Association and helped found a chapter in Dallas. Through this veteran’s group and the South Korean government he took me to South Korea on a returning veteran’s trip in 1997. It was an amazing and eye-opening trip in so many ways. It was the first time I really understood how impactful this life event had been for him, it was the first time I saw my father as someone other than just my father, it was a chance for me to see him be a part of something larger than my family.

As we toured through South Korea I listened. I listened to my dad as he related to these heroes of a war that has too often been relegated to a somewhat erstwhile conflict instead of the awful, frightening bloody mass of men and women dying and being maimed. They all marveled at how Seoul had recovered and they talked about how this modern city of eight million was nothing but ruble when they had last marched through the city.

I listened as these old soldiers talked and enjoyed each other’s stories and company as they relived a time in their lives that will always separate them from those of us who have been spared the worst of war. I watched as they looked at maps and pointed to where they had been stationed, I marveled at how my own father, a warrior in a real war, looked for familiar spots and I felt pride as I watched him, along with the other veterans, accept an honorary medal from the South Korean army. It was one of those moments that expanded my view and understanding of my own father.

In the Texas Senate gallery I sat with my dad and his compatriots. When the time came for the proclamation recognizing the Korean War veterans several Senators spoke. In turn they each recognized the men surrounding me. Some read names, some spoke of the cold, the heat, the Chinese, the Chosin Reservoir, Pork Chop Hill, and Inchon. Finally they asked for the veterans to stand and finally they applauded, and applauded, and applauded. I felt a great sense of pride as I sat among these very ordinary men who had served their country in an extraordinary way.

As my father and I drove back to Waco from Austin we talked, or rather he talked the whole way home. I asked the questions I’ve always wanted to know and he told me about his journey to war and his time at war and for the first time, his feelings about what he had experienced. I drove up to my house feeling fortunate to have spent this day with this man.

As we drove into the driveway of my home I said I thought it was really nice for the Senate to recognize you guys. My dad said, “Yes, they didn’t have to do that, but it sure is nice.” I’ve always been proud to be his son.

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