In 1943, my dad left the relative comfort of his UCLA frat house to travel to Georgia and take Army Basic and OCS training. He then traveled back to Camp Hale Colorado for high-altitude training in the newly formed 10th Mountain division.
He busted his knee on ski maneuvers and had to leave the 10th, went regular Army and mustered into the 88th Combat Division in time to lead a platoon of riflemen in the breakout past Monte Casino, the liberation of Rome and the fall assault of the Apennine Mountains blocking the Allied advance to the Po Valley.
The battle-hardened Wehrmacht was dug into every ridgeline and mountain top, positions from which they commanded every approach. He led several “fire and advance” assaults on these positions until on one such mission, as he drew close to the machine gun position pinning down his regiment, a German soldier popped up and mowed him down with a machine pistol.
He thought as he somersaulted backwards down the slope, “So this is how it ends, I hope the folks will be all right.”
When the medic got to him and unrolled Dad’s bullet riddled fatigue jacket, he told my dad, “I thought I was unwrapping a corpse.”
Fortunately, the slug that left a clean entry hole in his right breast and exit below his shoulder blade had only punctured his lung. After three months in the hospital he was back on limited duty in Corsica.
He didn’t discuss his war very much. He did tell me angrily once that “foolish and invulnerable” young men very much fear death. When they face machine guns they dive for cover and freeze.
“Somebody has to lead them up the hill.”
Another time he told me, again with some anger, that nobody has the right to ask a soldier whether he has killed men in combat. When he led his platoon, some of whom I assume were killed and maimed, he was 22.
Now Dad is locked down in a memory care unit in Millcreek. At 98 he desperately wants to get out, to go fishing as we have done for the last 5 years. His chances of getting out before he dies look increasingly bleak. As COVID-19 burns again across Utah his facility can’t let this killer into their population and won’t take chances.
Dad volunteered to endure mortal danger, brutality and physical and moral injury to protect the freedoms that we enjoy. He never once complained about the pain, the lost years, the screaming nightmares that he suffered into his 90s.
In repayment for his faithful service, far too many of his neighbors don’t seem willing to endure the minor inconvenience and discomfort of wearing a mask, of maintaining social distance, of following basic and proven public health measures.
There’s no question that following these practices can control the spread of COVID-19, regardless what self-serving public “servants” and political media figures say. Community spread is exploding in the portions of Utah where resistance to CDC guidelines is highest, guidelines that can protect them, their families and the very vulnerable like my dad.
In his confusion, he thinks he might be in jail, or maybe in the hospital in Italy recovering from his wound. He tells me sometimes he can’t wait to get out and head for Naples where the fun is.
If you won’t do it for yourself, or your parents or your grandparents, please consider wearing a mask for Dad. He was willing to risk everything, endure the unimaginable for your freedom. What are you willing to do for his?
John Griswold, Millcreek, is a long-time Utah resident, carpenter and contractor, now retired, artist and freelance writer. After caring for his father in his home for five years, he moved him into an assisted living center five months before the lockdown.