Maybe you were smiling at your parents, my grandparents, when they took this picture, but now you are smiling at me and everyone 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 in the 782nd Tank Battalion who knew you before you were blown to bits by the anti-tank mine that took your life, 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. You scrounged cheese from the cooks, they said, to grill cheese sandwiches on a small flat-topped wood burning stove. How like you, I imagine, knowing you were the son of a dairyman in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Smiling, they told me that you came into their tents on bitter cold nights and left them your glass of whiskey half full.
Best of all is the story of the night you were on duty and found Frank and one other young soldier stealing soap from the mess. They were going to use the soap to trade for whiskey 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!
My father is now a person to me, a guy with dark serious eyes much like my own, an easy-going sort of guy, maybe like his grandson, Jacques. 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 to me just before he was killed in Germany when I was three months old. And he was like his granddaughter, Sarah, who "gives to life to the fullest" as my father told me to do in his letter to me. Like her grandfather, Sarah writes letters and poems. Words are life giving to both of them and to those who read their words.
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 was unable to see him clearly; I lived with only the negative, a blurred, dark image. Now, after years of searching, I have a sense of him.
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.
– Susan Johnson Hadler–
© 2019 by Susan Johnson Hadler and the sons and daughters of AWON All rights reserved.