Every year at this time, I put my dad’s picture up on my Facebook page. He passed away several years ago, but right around now, when all the D-Day commemorations start cropping up, I can’t help but think about him.
My dad was a big talker and enjoyed stretching the truth to the point of ridiculousness, often telling us wild tales about his past, the things he’d done, the places he’d been, most of it obviously untrue. Tales like, that he’d gone to school with Christopher Columbus, or that carrying a hot potato in his hands was the only thing that kept him warm during his five-mile walk to school through waist high snow. Since dad wasn’t immortal and since he grew up in Mississippi, we knew those tall tales weren’t true.
The tall tales he could have told us about, the ones I didn’t hear about until I was an adult and wearing a uniform myself, were the tales of what happened during D-Day.
He had enlisted, was assigned to one of Patton’s all black tank battalions, and for the first time in his life, left his small Mississippi town to go overseas. Now and then, he’d tell me quick stories about those days. He talked about the voyage by ship to England, the long hours of boredom, the sea sickness some suffered, the games of cards, all the smoking and joking going on. He said they learned a few things to say in German. “Haben Sie einen cigarette bitte?” (Do you have a cigarette?) Mochtest du mit mir spazieren gehen? (Would you like to go on a walk with me?) And “Ich liebe dich.” (I love you.)
When he repeated the long ago learned sentences, I told him he’d been equipped to smoke and to pick up chicks. He smiled in a way that made me think he’d been successful in the latter endeavor.
I had to prompt him with questions in order to get him to tell me about the other stuff. Like the day after D-day, when he and his company landed on Utah beach, about their march across Europe and how cold it was during the Battle of the Bulge, or how many people they lost, and the close calls he suffered. He once told me about how they would allow white infantrymen to ride on his tank when they were on the road, only to have those same men shun the black soldiers when they reached a town.
WWII and D-Day and his training and the things he saw and did were the biggest tales of his life, but he didn’t talk about them. My mom, who was a WAC during WWII, didn’t talk about her service either. It’s frustrating now, when I have so many questions.
So I put his picture up on my page, the one with the cocky grin and with his hat tipped to the side like he owns the world. He was a handsome dude, my dad. I’m proud of his service, whatever the hell it was that he did.