2LT David Selby Johnson, Jr.
782nd Tank Battalion, 3rd Army
Killed in Action 12 April, 1945
in Mechernich, Germany
-- Susan Johnson Hadler --
Maybe you were smiling at Granny or Poppy when they took this picture, but now you're smiling at me and at
every one who finds you here. Thanks to Ann Mix and the help and support of many AWONers I have a sense of you
at last. The shadow of your sad violent death is shorter now that I know you a little bit.
The men of the 782nd Tank Battalion told me stories about you from the time you were stationed at Camp Lucky Strike
on the north coast of France in the winter of '45. They said you scrounged cheese from the cooks to make them
grilled cheese sandwiches on a little flat-topped wood burning stove. I bet you liked grilled cheese sandwiches
yourself, having grown up the son of a dairyman in Oshkosh,Wisconsin. They also told me you shared your whiskey
with them on bitter cold nights. You'd come into their tent with your glass of whiskey, and you'd leave it there
for them to drink.
Best of all is the story Frank told me. One night while you were on duty, you found Frank and another guy stealing
soap from the mess. They were going to use the soap to trade for whisky in the village. All you said was, "You have
to be more careful. Anybody can see you coming in here. You could get caught." You would have been a great dad!
These stories are treasures, bits of gold telling me who you were. I loved you when I didn't know much about you
and now my love is boundless. The search for you has given me new friends and a lighter heart.
I think I finally know my father enough to mourn him here in my room as the sun sets over the pointed roof tops on
a cold day in march just before spring. My father is now a person to me, a guy with dark serious eyes much like my
own, an easy-going, forgetful sort of guy, maybe like his grandson. Yes, I think He would understand Jacques, who is
also both quiet and people loving, who "believes in living life to its fullest and enjoys all good things" as my father
wrote about the family in his letter to me just before he was killed by a mine in Germany when I was three months old.
Jacques' playfulness would have matched my father's own. I wish they had known each other. And Sarah. He was like
Sarah who carries a natural goodness, "a belief in tolerance," and who "gives to life to the fullest" as my father
told me to do in his letter to me. Words are life giving to both of them and their words give life to those who read
Sarah too writes letters and poems. She lets people know who she is and what they mean to her. Like my father. They
would have had fun together.
I never knew I would end here, seeing my father in my children. He has been so private, existing in me as a tragic
sadness until now. For years I lived with only the negative, a blurred, dark image. I was unable to see him clearly.
I could not reach him. I could not find him. I didn't know him. Now, after years of searching, I know him a little bit.
During my search, I thought of him as my backbone. He is now part of me and part of our family. I am not alone with a
ghost or a god for a father. I know my father, and although he didn't father me in person, he has shaped my life as a
father does. And I'm filled with love and thanks.