Sometimes we learn of our loved ones deepest feelings by the things they leave behind, particularly if they have traveled lightly. My dad, unlike me, was a person of few words, not inclined to wear his emotions on his sleeve. He didn’t talk much about the war, except to share a few bits and pieces here and there, mostly funny stories; in fact the one time he really opened up to me about his experiences was the Memorial Day I wrote him the letter, when he told me about a good buddy of his who was blown up by a land mine in France–the only time in my life I ever saw my father cry, other than when my grandma died.
So, after he died, when I discovered the following prayer–along with an old missal, his rosary, my letter, and assorted old photographs, including a number from the war–it told me a lot about the the scars the war had left.
God of power and mercy,
In the midst of conflict and division,
we know it is you who turn our minds to thoughts of peace.
Your Spirit changes our hearts:
enemies begin to speak to one another,
those who were estranged join hands in friendship,
and nations seek the way of peace together.
Protect us from violence
and keep us safe from the weapons of war.
This we ask though the Prince of Peace,
our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
(Based on the Eucharistic Prayer for Masses of Reconciliation II)
Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
My dad was once a crack shot; he qualified as a rifle expert in the Army and, being a farm boy, hunted frequently before he was drafted into the service. Yet after he came home he never picked up a rifle again. As he told me, “Once you’ve seen what a gun can do to a human being, you just don’t want to ever look at one again.”
It’s good to remember that all combat veterans sacrifice for their country; it’s just that in some cases, the wounds aren’t visible on the outside. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, and that the suffering isn’t real. My father had nightmares and insomnia all his life, and when I was a chaplain intern I worked with WWII vets who, more than 50 years later, still had flashbacks of concentration camps and landings on Normandy Beaches, desolate Christmases in the Ardennes and firey Pacific Islands, haunted by unimaginable horrors that could not be put to rest.
So if you (if anyone is actually reading this) happen to meet a WWII vet–or any vet at all–say thanks. Believe me, it will mean the world to them.