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Stacey Harwood

Remembering My Dad on Veterans Day [by Stacey Lehman]

SmallWWIICollage My dad landed on Utah beach, not as part of the first wave, thank god, or I probably wouldn't be here, but later, to clean up. He was a soldier in the 94th Infantry Division that fought in the Battle of the Bulge and liberated a concentration camp. It was in Nennig, Germany, that the Germans gave his division its nickname "Roosevelt's Butchers" for stacking the dead in houses and along roads and refusing prisoners, lacking the means to guard and transport them. Like so many others, he enlisted, a tough street kid from the Bronx, the child of immigrants from Poland and Ukraine.  During boot camp, he was court-martialed for striking an officer who called him a dirty kike. Though he was acquitted, he got shipped out soon after without having completed his training.
    I don't know much about his service, not because he was particularly reticent but because he died suddenly at 50, before I was mature enough to imagine my parents had lives worth learning about. How I regret that I never asked him about those years. Anyone who has tried to get WWII military records knows that a fire destroyed many of them. Thus, all I have are the things he carried: his dog-tags, a French-English dictionary, a guide to Europe, and, oddly, a copy of Don Quixote in Spanish.  Several years ago, I gathered these mementos together and along with a few photographs asked Star Black, the brilliant poet, photographer, and collage artist to make something of them.  A few weeks later she presented me with three collages, one of which is shown here. That's my dad in the middle, looking handsome, and so young! In the upper left is a page from his guidebook in which he wrote a list of the places he fought his way through, ending with "and a funeral in some god-forsaken place."

Dogtag Dad

One of the more moving accounts of life as an infantryman during WWII can be found in Roll Me Over, by Raymond Gantter.  Ganttner was a teacher who decided to turn down his third deferment.  He was unfit for officer status so he joined the infantry as a private.  His service was almost identical to that of my father's.  Here's a passage: 

It is the slow piling up of fear that is so intolerable. Fear moves swiftly in battle, strikes hard with each shell, each new danger, and as long as there's action, you don't have time to be frightened.  But this is a slow fear, heavy and stomach filling.  Slow, slow . . all your movements are careful and slow, and pain is slow and fear is slow and the beat of your heart is the only rapid rhythm of the night . . . a muttering drum easily punctured and stilled.

    Upon completion of his service and return to the US, my dad had difficulty finding work. I recently discovered among my mother's things, a cache of the letters he wrote to potential employers along with a pile of rejections. Over time, my dad's letters became increasingly imaginative (some might say desperate). At around the same time, he and his brothers agreed to change their names from Horowitz to Harwood, the surname of a minor British royal. It was the name I grew up with and that made it possible for me to witness anti-Semitism by those who had no idea that I'm Jewish. I thought of myself as an undercover Jew.

-- sdl

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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