Understated Bravery

Today is Memorial Day and this morning I had a conversation with my 96 year-old father about World War II. Up until this morning, “brave” would not be a word that would occur to me in desribing my dad. I certainly don’t mean to take anything away from him, but Dad never served in uniform, never saw combat and never really experienced and dangerous or frightening ramifications of the world war he lived through. He is a wonderful and dedicated father, a loving and faithful husband, a wise and fantastic provider and a very accomplished chemical engineer who designed polyethylene (plastic) plants all over the world. But the concept of “brave” never enters the picture when I think of my Dad or his experiences in life. After our discussion this morning, I learned something about Dad’s experiences during World War II that I never knew before and that helped me see my father differently and realize there are many different kinds of bravery. In our family, conversations about my father’s experiences during what his generation called “The Great War,” were centered on Dad’s work for an ammunition factory. He was a Canadian citizen, newly graduated from University of Toronto with a chemical engineering degree and was seconded by the US government to work in a US ordinance factory in Texas. My dad is a very quiet and introverted man and I always assumed he got through those war years without any real concerns or personal stress related to the war effort. During his service at Cactus Ordinance Works, Dad met and married my mother, so I’m guessing they had many happy memories from those days and not very many experiences related to the horrors happening overseas. My mother’s brother, Randall, served in the Navy, and thankfully survived the war without harm. I always assumed my father felt relatively little stress during those war years. I was wrong. What I didn’t learn until this morning was that because Dad was a Canadian citizen and worked in the United States, he could have been drafted at any point during the war by either country – essentially doubling his chances of being drafted into military service. Every few months when he reported to be considered for conscription, Dad never knew if he’d be returning to the ordinance factory or sent on to basic training. Luckily, both countries determined that his skills were better served by staying at Cactus Ordinance Works near Amarillo rather than reporting to basic training. My father could have taken an easier route and returned to Canada to cut his chances of being drafted into military service in half. But Dad felt his work in the United States munitions factory was so important, that he took the risk. Dad’s bravery was a very different kind of bravery shown by those who served their countries in uniform and a very different kind of bravery from those who served in actual combat. His bravery was different from the bravery from those who died as prisoners of war. A different kind of bravery shown by family members of soldiers stationed overseas. A different kind of bravery shown by the loved ones of fallen or missing soldiers. Dad’s bravery was very much like his own personality – very, very understated. On this Memorial Day, I honor my father whose bravery was invisible to most, personal, quiet, understated, undocumented and undecorated, but bravery nonetheless.

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