When I wrote about helping my father with his memoirs in this blog, many people responded with stories about their parents and family memories. I talked with my father, who is now 87, and he seemed pleased that others were interested. He gave me permission to share his memoirs with others as I pleased.
One thing I tired to keep in mind as I wrote was that I was telling my father’s story; not mine. I tried to use my father’s “voice” in the phrasing, vocabulary and subject matter. When writing I always try to find the voice of the protagonist. For example, in my short story Lady of Quality, although the writing took about three years to complete, the voice of the protagonist never flagged. No matter how long it took I always knew I would finish eventually. With my father’s memoirs, I had a lifetime of listening to work with. There have been times with my boys when I opened my mouth and heard my father’s words come tumbling out.
My father has a Midwesterner’s reluctance to call attention to himself and to downplay his accomplishments. That does not mean he lacks confidence or ambition. He does not. We agreed that readers would most interested in his war experiences and that should be the opening of the book. My father was insistent that he was not a hero and would not accept any description implying he was.
We discussed starting with the Battle of the Bulge, crossing the Rhine River over the only intact bridge left in all of Germany or earning a bronze star. My father suggested his first encounter with a jet might work, but I thought t would be less impressive to readers well acquainted with jets than it had been to him when his life was suddenly threatened by a weapon he’d only heard rumors about.
I searched for a theme, we talked extensively and I reviewed his thoughts, Finally I suggested an opening that we mutually evolved into the following:
My childhood ended on December 17, 1944. I was twenty years old then, but it wasn’t my age that mattered. On that date, the second day of the Battle of the Bulge, I was sent to the front line as a replacement for a man about my age who had been killed. When I went off to war my dad told me to do whatever I had to do to survive and come home again. I thought the man I replaced probably had similar instructions from his dad. The instructions didn’t save him. My dad’s instructions couldn’t deflect bullets of shell fragments. I knew I could be killed and that knowledge destroyed my childish illusion that everything would work out for me in the end. Surrounded by strangers, shivering in the bitter cold and aware that I could die without warning, I thought about how I ended up in a hole in the ground with people shooting at me. But combat was the defining experience of my life.
Would you like to hear more about his memoirs?