by Roger Young by Roger Young
Recently, my father passed away. When loved ones die we look for material souvenirs to keep close by to remind us of departed loved ones; photos, personal effects, and even clothing. Clothing, besides having practical value, is a display of identity, a method of expressing what a person is about either in a subtle or very direct manner. This may explain at least part of my dear mother's thinking when she offered me my father's World War II Army dress uniform shirt to take home as a memento. Not sure how to refuse the offer without offending her, I responded by saying, u201CThat's not Dad to me.u201D
I remembered another shirt of Dad's I've kept for some time that reminds me of far more important accomplishments of my father's life. When my siblings and I were still quite young we were fortunate to go on several cross-country road trips, primarily during summer vacation. One year, my mother outfitted the entire family in identical red and blue patterned shirts to identify us to others as a tight knit clan of travelers – or maybe just to make it easier to keep track of her precocious kids. I possess the only surviving shirt (we kids quickly outgrew ours) of that wonderful time forty plus years ago. It happens to be my father's copy and it represents to me the essential character of what my father was really about.
The state is always trying to tag us with an identity – political affiliation, victim group, race – convenient labels to group and track us. Individuality is despised and the state gets confused and sometimes even hostile when those they assign to a particular group do not exhibit the monolithic group-think expected of them. Yes, my father once wore the uniform of the state but it certainly wasn't worn voluntarily and most definitely did not represent a direction he had chosen for himself. It merely represents a necessary detour along his life's path. Whether that path was necessary or not is a subject for another discussion.
I was not interested in keeping my father's Army uniform shirt because it reminds me how my father was hijacked from his home and loved ones (including a young wife that would become my mother). He was conscripted by a warring state – a state that had failed, as it always does, to preserve peace. The elite and powerful had determined FDR's rampage to u201Csaveu201D Europe was far more important than my father's trivial pursuit of individual fulfillment. The state was not interested in my father's wonderful personal qualities that made him a unique child of God but only as another faceless piece of cannon fodder to throw at an enemy.
My father was pursuing the peaceful profession of pharmacy when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. His masters promised he could continue to attend pharmacy school while in the service. But it wasn't long before they threw a B.A.R around his neck and sent him to France where he took a German sniper's bullet through the arm. While I was growing up he rarely talked about the war, usually only when prodded with a question from his curious children. Sometimes, while watching a television program about the war he might volunteer information from his personal experiences. Whatever pride he may have had in his service he kept to himself. Sure, he would march with the Am-Vet color guard in our little town's Memorial Day Parade (then called Decoration Day). And he would fire his rifle for the traditional 21-gun salute. But, thankfully, he never was one of those pathetic old men with a veteran's cap, squeezed into his old Army uniform, strutting and sticking his chest out like a male grackle in heat. I never got the impression he viewed his time in the war as a glorious episode in his life, but rather a necessary task he was given (forced) to do. The only positive characteristic the Army shirt represents to me is that my father had the guts and resoluteness, along with the blessing of God's mercy, to survive a difficult, horrendous experience. I am certainly thankful for this fact but I extend absolutely no gratitude to the monstrous state who put him in that situation.
However, the red and blue shirt represents the man whose natural motivation in life was to start and raise a family. It reminds me of his positive ambition of creating a successful business that provided for that family. I'm reminded of all the wonderful traveling adventures throughout the American west and elsewhere. This traveling gave us lessons about life that could never be taught in a conventional school classroom. Memories of these trips are vivid, even decades later and planted in me a seed of wanderlust that seems to germinate about every fifteen or twenty years. My father's natural drive in life was to create and cultivate, not the state's perverted mindset to attack and destroy.
After several months of painful suffering, my father is at peace now. My guess is his soul is content with a job well done. All the accomplishments that make up his 81-year legacy is embodied in the lives of his children and grandchildren. Their challenge is to duplicate and even surpass his feats. I'll always have that raggedy, worn shirt to remind me of his vitality, giving spirit, and calming influence. That shirt, colored with precious, positive memories, is one uniform worth preserving.