Combat and Military Memory of my Father: I Could Have Told Him That I Loved Him
by Paul Schroeder
My father parachuted into Germany and was captured that same week; he and his Screaming Eagles company buddies were holed up in a farmhouse armed with machine guns when a Tiger Tank rolled up to it and put its muzzle into a window and fired.
He recalled his ferocious gnawing hunger and told me that at the prisoner of war camp at night, when he slept, mice would creep into his buttoned shirt vest pocket to steal the few crumbs of bread he had hidden there before he could awaken and slap his pocket.
He weighed eighty-eight pounds when he was liberated.
At another time, on a work detail outside and beyond the barbed wire fence, he saw a skeletal group of Jews, literally walking skeletons, and in abject pity he threw a piece of his bread over a fence to them, which they all frantically scrambled for.
The supervising German sergeant of those doomed Jews saw him do this and walked over to him and put a Luger into my father’s mouth and pulled the trigger.
The gun misfired.
His mind and lifelong emotional mental state were never the same after that incident, and for the rest of his life he remained tortured, an unhappy and mostly unpleasant man.
He would, many years later, angrily retrieve moldy bread and brown wilted lettuce from the trash, raging about ,’wasted food’, and we all learned that for our peace of mind, food garbage had to be thrown into the incinerator, long before he came home, from work.
He told me that he witnessed the killings of women who had assisted anti-Nazi resistance fighters, women who were hung from piano wires in a slow strangulation that delighted and entertained the German Waffen S.S.
But he seemed calm telling me that it took some over an hour to die, in this fashion, from this form of German murder, for the the slimmest, most lightweight women who were hanged, struggled longer against their nooses.
The prisoner of war camp’s confinement had chafed his soul.
Even long after the war he could escape the inglorious restraints and confinements of marriage and work , by seeking the open ocean to fish for striped bass and bluefish.
He loved fishing more than anything or anyone, in his life, and ached for fishing, to be free and alone on a landscape of waves, with only gulls for company.
He spent all of his spare time, nights and weekends, alone on the open Atlantic ocean, a peaceful landscape of land escape, far from dangerous and murderous distant coastlines.
When he thought that I was old enough to be of assistance to him, he brought me into his escapist world of fishing solitude, and far out on the waters of the Atlantic, far from any constricting shore, told me his memories, of a horrific war. .
When I was young, eight, nine and ten years of age, my father woke me every Friday night at 2:00 A.M. and by three fifteen A.M. we were out in the waters of Long Island, in his boat, fishing for striped bass and bluefish until the sun came up and fish stopped feeding and taking lures.
We watched the gulls; wherever they were raucous and feeding, we caught many large fish, as schools were underneath, forcing the bait to the surface, which attracted the birds. It was a foolproof technique.
After the sun came up, we sat and jigged the bottom for fluke and flounders, languid bottom feeders, while we sat under the shade of the Marine Parkway Bridge.
Bereft of the engine’s roar and the slap of the waves against a speeding hull, we sat, and he would speak to me of the horrors he had seen.
Every weekend of my youth was spent this way, catching large fish.
I was agog and seasick for days afterwards.
The pitched sickness of the waves, the sharp sour stink of fish, the stench of gasoline from the engine, the foul pungent odor of the, ‘piss-can’ and his poignant recollections of the horrors that he had seen during the war, combined to make me deathly ill, each time that we fished together..
I envisioned deep trenches in the furrows of the waves, filled with sobbing, and doomed families of Jews, as German Waffen S.S. driven bulldozers, pushed tons of soil atop them, to bury them, alive.
Once, after listening to such tales, told to me in his low, monotone voice, I eventually noticed that each time I netted and landed a fish into the boat, the water would swirl and splash a few seconds afterwards, and I asked my father the cause of this bizarre occurrence.
He blithely told me, casting a lure from the boat, that the fish’s mate would break the water, seeking his lost mate, following after, in a futile search.
In that moment, with the boat at my feet filled with flopping fish, jaws gaping in airy suffocation, the horrors in his stories resurfaced:
dead children in the streets, who resembled dolls, their jaws and eyes open,
skeletal Jews with pleading eyes,
children murdered before their parents’ eyes,
of a Waffen S.S. who used his machine pistol to separate a close knit family, and of their wails of separation, which years later, would ring in my father’s head.
I suddenly realized, in horror, that each swirl and splash of water, after I had pulled one fish into the boat, was a mate and thus a broken heart, that fish were individuals, with feelings, and not just mere products!
The horror of fish, dead and dying at my feet, of loved ones’ final, forceful separation, in a frozen moment, broke my young heart, and I found and resolved, that I could no longer bear to catch, or to ever again, eat fish.
Recalling these memories is not a freeing and therapeutic catharsis, instead I feel a sad nostalgia, a morbid whimsy .
As a writer, it is difficult to capture the strained, forced familiarity of families’ troubled interactions, governed by fruits of traumas, into words.
I have carefully locked the vault door against the worst recollections, the horrors of living with him; he had absorbed the repeated brutality of his experiences.
Throughout life, he radiated the same heavy-handed violence to those all around him, using fists, where a word, instead, might suffice.
Those recollections, if unlocked behind my mind’s protective vault doors, would make these experiences, herein, pale, by comparison.
When I can hazard to open those vault doors, doors made of three feet of steel, therapeutic and freeing might then ensue.
Debriefing combat troops, is still nonexistent; one arrives fresh from combat to San Diego Airport or Kennedy International Airport.
The injuries that our most recent troops have sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan, unseen and unmeasured injuries, are deep and painful scars on their souls; many, after drug and alcohol addiction fails to assuage their grief, take their own lives, in suicides suffering from combat angst beyond words.
I recall General Patton coming under criticism for slapping the face of and calling a coward, a young soldier, in a field hospital, who was trembling, with severe shell shock.
Even the military fails to understand what happens to America’s young men who have been taught all of their lives,”Thou shalt not kill”, after they are trained to be killing machines and then aptly fill the job description for a tour of duty.
Americans must unite to reluctantly resolve to fight a broader world war with ISIS, for though America does NOT want war, WAR wants America.
America, is NOT at war, for America is busy shopping in malls; our military, however, IS at war.
Their souls are forever tainted, degraded and crippled by official legal murders.
How is one to understand?
Rather than wrongly judging that my father wallowed in these memories, he instead was surely drowning, within a deeper struggle, far removed from self pity.
Though he never once told me, within the recollections of the circle of my life, that he loved me, I found that I instead should have told him then, and often, that I loved him .
Just before he died, at eighty-four, after a lifetime of no contact with him, I visited him at the Saint Albans Veterans Hospital Facility.
How I learned that he was there, is a paranormal story beyond belief, but one reserved for another time.
Even after a stroke and a heart attack, confined to a wheelchair, his bristling aggression and smoldering anger had still radiated.
He had angrily cursed God, when I did mention God, to him; he had repeatedly cursed God, saying that there was no God and as proof, offered me what he had seen, of the long ago mass murders of Jewish infants and children, by Ukrainians and Nazi Waffen S.S. troops.
He had repeated that because of raw evil allowed to run rampant, he was thus an atheist, one who didn’t believe a single word about God and then, he had openly cursed God, again.
I had chided him by saying that although God WAS all loving, that even God, might get annoyed, to be cursed so.
Slowly, I had realized an element of rescue, a spiritual coup de’ grace; I had been driven by unseen forces, after twenty-five years of no contact, to bring along to his bedside, a spiritual message to deliver to him.
I said that he was wrong; that the proof of God only seemed so invisible because it was too merged within our consciousness and within everything all around us, to be too easily detected.
I had told him that I had, over years of learning, away from him, become psychic enough to glean more:
that we are NOT people, having spiritual/ paranormal experiences, but are undying spirits, within a DNA nanotech-contrived housing, instead, having human experiences.
That we ‘step out of’ our bodies at death, as we do our cars and our clothing, in physical life.
And we are no more our bodies, I had said, than we are our clothing, or our vehicles.
I had assured him that I had learned that our consciousness actually reincarnated often, to learn spiritual lessons, that God gives us many lifetimes to refine our souls and to learn lessons that we set out for ourselves.
With some pride, I had reminded him that his lifetime’s recollections of horrid war experiences, revealed a braver and nobler inner spirit, than most, to have chosen such harsh and horrid lessons.
He quietly listened, with no vague inkling of acceptance.
A week later, preparing to visit him, again, I got a phone call from the hospital that he had passed in the night from a second and final heart attack.
Some months later, while I was playing my bass guitar, (playing music, much like sleep, or hypnotic television watching seems to suppress my left brain’s blocking aspect, and paranormal experiences occur) in my living room, his face suddenly loomed into my mind’s eye and I suddenly felt his closeness.
Instead of an accompanying sad heaviness, his energy radiated a youthful joyous presence.
Stunned, I psychically acknowledged him, with love, but also with great worry; I cautiously admonished him for hazarding to linger so on this plane, and asked him to quickly jump into the Light.
His accompanying joy, a mixture of freedom from worry, from bedworn immobility, from war-time sadness, with an element of love and thanks, thrilled me.
Perhaps, I had I had been sought to deliver that message, to him, in much needed time.