Skip to main content

My dad carried the pain of war, alone

By James Kindall, Special to CNN
updated 7:38 AM EST, Mon November 11, 2013
The writer's father, Charles Kindall, in an undated photo during his service as an artilleryman in World War II. He served from June 1941 to September 1945.
The writer's father, Charles Kindall, in an undated photo during his service as an artilleryman in World War II. He served from June 1941 to September 1945.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • James Kindall: War veterans have tales, sometimes harrowing; many can't tell them
  • Others can't understand, he says; it was like this with his father, who served in WW II
  • He says sometimes, though, he'd share stories of friends killed, of nearly losing leg
  • Kindall: Dad didn't enjoy Veterans Day. When parade passed, he only saw friends lost

Editor's note: James Kindall is a writer on Long Island, in New York.

(CNN) -- Every war veteran has stories. They can be shocking, harrowing, tragic -- sometimes even funny. The problem for families trying to understand those experiences, on Veterans Day and every day, is that they won't hear much about them. Many vets have trouble talking about them.

This was the case with my father, who saw lots of action as an artilleryman in the Philippines during World War II. When I was a kid, I'd beg him for tales about the war. Usually, he waved me away. Sometimes, though, he gave in to my badgering.

I found it strange that most of his accounts were short on the blood and guts bravado that my G.I. Joe comic books had led me to expect. Mostly, they were about men who simply wanted to do their job and go home, but found themselves subject to the deadly coin toss of war.

"'There's no way anyone who wasn't there could understand,' he would say."

Like today's soldiers recovering from injuries, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or haunted by images of fallen friends, he soon learned after returning home that he couldn't explain war to a civilian. He would carry this alone.

"There's no way anyone who wasn't there could understand," he would say.

He shook his head telling about the time he had been relieved of duty at a forward observation post. Moments after he walked away, an enemy shell hit the site. It obliterated everyone there, including the friend who had just taken his place.

He was lucky in war. I think that bothered him, too.

His unit saw 187 days of active battle, but his only injury came when his leg was peppered with shrapnel during an assault. Gangrene set in. Doctors told him the leg had to come off or he could die. He refused to let the doctors operate, and they reluctantly respected his wishes. Then a new "wonder drug" arrived. It was the first batch of penicillin to reach the Philippines, and his life was saved.

Why was he spared and others not? Again, he couldn't explain.

Marines reflect on Iraq war experience
World War II vet still swinging

One day, he heard that an acquaintance -- a kid from his hometown in Missouri -- had been killed in a nearby conflict. He drove to the battlefield to search for the body, but most of the dead were too disfigured to be recognized. Finally, he gave up. He couldn't understand why he had wanted to find him. Or, what he would have done if he had.

"Really, I didn't even know him," he told me.

At some point during those evenings, he would stop and turn his head. I knew he was finished then, and I would wander off, leaving him to his distant world.

Years later, as a reporter, I wrote a series of articles about WWII veterans. Each had his own accounts of exploits and escapes. Like Dad, they usually had to be coaxed into talking. Often, the interviews astounded members of their own family who were hearing the stories for the first time.

Like many veterans today, the war never left my father. For years, he suffered bouts of malaria from his time in the South Pacific. His wounded leg sometimes gave him trouble. He regretted not signing up for disability pay while getting his discharge. But the line of injured vets was too long for him to wait. He wanted to get home to a bride he hadn't seen in 3½ years. And a 4-year-old son he'd never met.

My father respected the sentiment behind Veterans Day, but it wasn't an observance he enjoyed.

Dad became a successful businessman in a small Midwestern town after the war and, each year, the Veterans Day parade filed past his storefront. He never joined it, or added his voice to the cheering crowd. While everyone else saw the ranks of veterans parading past, he saw the wartime buddies who weren't there.

So, he simply watched grim-faced until it was over. Then he went back inside and tried to forget all over again.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Kindall.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:22 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT