Renewal Forty-Seven : It Is Not The Shedding Of Blood That Brings Us Together Or Preserves Our Freedom, It Is Forgiveness And Humility

My father was in Corregidor in the Philippines in 1942 and was captured by the Japanese, becoming a prisoner of war and enduring the infamous Bataan Death March. He was not freed until the end of the war, one of about 4,000 survivors out of the approximately 12,000 who were originally captured.

These things I do not know from him, but from what I gathered historically over the years. What he actually told me can be related in just a few sentences.

I remember becoming keenly aware of the Bataan Death March when I was in the eighth grade. This is not to say that I did not know about my dad’s incarceration–he had given me a ceremonial Japanese sword from the ranking Japanese officer who had surrendered it to him when the prisoners were freed, but I did not know on a visceral level until I heard some stories and saw some pictures. A fellow student’s father was also a prisoner. During a speech or sharing or something, the student brought in pictures and related some of his father’s stories. I was enraptured, as was the class, and, for a few days at least, it was all the talk.

I thought that my father would be pleased to know that a bunch of early teenagers were truly interested and touched by the story of Bataan. I asked him to tell me what he knew.

He told me that he remembered the buzz near the end, when many Japanese guards were disappearing and most prisoners thought their days were numbered in one way or the other. Then one day American planes flew over and dropped some semi-sweet chocolate among other things and the Japanese relinquished control. A Japanese officer gave my father the sword and he and some other men found cloth, sewed an American flag and replaced the Japanese flag flying in the compound.

He told me this in a very quiet voice and in a very straightforward manner, though it was clear that the memories raised deep emotions.

Then there was silence.

I asked him how he felt about the Japanese, and he told me that he was alive because a Japanese guard had snuck him and some other prisoners chicken on occasion, at the risk of the guard’s own life.

Then there was silence.

I asked him about the cruelty and he nodded, but said nothing.

And that is basically how it went. From my father, that was all he ever had to say.

He was a quiet man anyway, never saying much about his past, or for that matter, the present or the future. He drank and he worked, and he endured.

As a child, even as a teen, I was not comfortable around him and he was not comfortable around me. I do not believe he was comfortable around my brother or sister either, and he did not appear to be at ease in his marriage with our mother.

When it came to little animals or babies, or being mischievous, he was a different man. I remember him playing with our dogs when they were puppies and never having seen him so alive. I remember how he loved it when he did something mysterious that others could not figure out. The look on his face was filled with delight.

When, after realizing that my parents were people before they were parents, I told him that I loved him. He looked very puzzled and somewhat taken aback, his eyes watered and he said very hesitantly and very softly that he loved me as well. He then told me about some physical things that had been happening to him, which is something I never remember him talking about before. I attributed it to him passing out from drinking. In about two weeks, in June of 1970, he died of a stroke at the age of 60.

I have spoken about my mother before. She was not the quiet type, though she never said much about the horrors of war while stationed in London as a member of the Women’s Army Corp during World War II (just the term World War is more than I can take). She did tell us about the things that she liked and the friends she met. She certainly loved being in Europe, even if she was not happy about the war. With the exception of her retirement, I believe, despite the war, that her time in the Army was some of the happiest times she had. For her, the Army represented camaraderie, and that she relished.

Two different veterans, two different personalities, two different perspectives, two different behavior patterns, two different outcomes. But I seriously doubt that there were two different sets of desires.

I think that both of them, like humans in general, sought comfort in others. I think that both of them were not at ease in the disconnect between mind and emotions.

My father had been explicitly taught that disconnect, and experience had only reaffirmed the necessity of it. But I think his drinking was a manifestation of his pain in living that dissociation.

My mother had been implicitly taught that disconnect, even though women were allowed their emotional ranges. I think the bitterness that remained in her was the manifestation of her anger that there were those disconnects, and between some, like mother and daughter, husband and wife, male and female, there should be no such chasm.

So today, Memorial Day, I have been giving some thought to those two people, and to many others, known and unknown. They fought, as countless others did before and after them, not just for freedom, but for communion–to be individuals and yet to be together. We are deeply hurt and deeply scarred when we do not have both. In the absence of one or both, we must either allow our loss or endure it.

Those two, along with the countless others, mostly endured it. And that endurance took its toll, not just on them, but on those who count it as a noble undertaking. Communion is not truly achieved in the cruelty of war–the glory of the victor and the shame of the vanquished does not perpetuate what was fought for. I think those veterans would not want this reality, I think that is not what they fought and endured and died for.

While there are many edges which we can trip over in our use of words, I hope, somehow, on this Memorial Day, that above the remembrances of honoring those who have gone to war, we can learn from their experience that it does not have to be the shedding of blood that brings us together or preserves our freedom, it can be forgiveness and humility.

If we can learn those two things, perhaps we will learn to accept and to allow both ourselves and others our mistakes and our triumphs.

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