Getting My Father To Talk About the War Was a Lost Cause
His close friend, Alexander Perlin, was among the ‘unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live.’
My father didn’t talk much. Like a lot of the dads of that era, they kept most things to themselves. If we were fishing for five hours and I got five sentences out of him, that was a loquacious day. Four of the five sentences were usually about fish. Getting him to talk about the war was a lost cause.
When I was growing up in the Midwest in the 1950s and 1960s almost every father of my classmates served in World War II. The usual question was Nazis or Japanese? My two best friend’s fathers were both in Asia — the Philippines and China. My father and my uncle were in the European Theater. Beyond that, I had to learn to read him and try to fill in the blanks.
One day when I was in second grade, we went with my grandmother to visit my grandfather’s grave. As we were walking away, I saw my father standing over a nearby grave, just shaking his head. I asked him who that was and to my surprise, he spoke. I learned that it was his friend from childhood, someone he played with all the time growing up. “Like you play with Allen,” he said. Allen was one of my best friends.
The grave didn’t tell me much, but I have now visited it every time I go to see my parent’s graves. Alexander Perlin was born the same year as my father, 1915. He was a son, a First Lieutenant in the 379th Infantry, the 95th Division — known as “Victory” — and he died in 1944 in France.
Now that his parents are long gone and he might not have any relatives alive who knew him, I make it a point just to stop there. I hate to think that he will just be forgotten. So, I’m thinking about him, and my father and all the fathers from my childhood this weekend.
Today, many Americans forget that Memorial Day wasn’t always just the three-day weekend that kicks off the summer. It began three years after the Civil War as Decoration Day… when the graves of the fallen were decorated with flags.
After World War I, it became Memorial Day and would be celebrated every May 30th. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, turning all federal holidays into 3-day weekends and undermining the original purpose of the day.
Since 1776, more than a million Americans have fallen for our country. Alexander Perlin’s mother and father were one of more than 400,000 Gold Star parents from World War II. In the certificate that they, and all families who lost sons or daughters received, the President wrote the following words, which still resonate all these years later.
He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live, and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, he lives – in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.