My mother-in-law calls her father, now well into his nineties, by his first name. Her three younger siblings call him paw or daddy. She calls him Eddie. I once asked her why she did that.
Raised an Illinois Yankee, Eddie worked for the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the aftermath of the Great Depression before becoming a self-described hobo. He rode the trails wandering wherever he could find work. In 1940 when hunger was a still a very real thing in America, Eddie joined the U.S. Army because it was a reliable source of food.
When Eddie first donned the uniform, the U.S. was awash in isolationism. Most Americans assumed that one global war per century was enough. Sadly, that was not to be the case.
Eddie was assigned to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for Infantry training and while there met the prettiest girl he had ever seen. He had heard stories of Southern girls before, and Sarah was everything the legends made them out to be. Engaging, genteel, and gorgeous, Eddie immediately knew that Sarah was a keeper. Eddie referred to her as Pee Wee, her childhood nickname.
These were uncertain times, and no one knew what tomorrow might hold. After an abbreviated courtship, the couple married. Just before Eddie shipped out for North Africa, they found out Sarah was pregnant. With total war engulfing the planet the pain of one man leaving a new bride to go off to fight might seem a teardrop in the ocean. For a certain anxious young Infantryman, however, it was his entire world.
A Planet Aflame
Eddie carried an M1 Carbine in combat, but it was a .45-caliber 1911A1 pistol that was his constant companion. He once happened upon a Nazi Fi-156 Storch observation plane downed by Allied ground fire. Harvesting some of the Fiesler Plexiglas from the aircraft he fashioned a clear grip for his pistol and sandwiched a beaming photograph of his young wife underneath it. As Eddie fought his way across Sicily and then up the Italian peninsula past Rome and places like Monte Cassino and Anzio the 1911A1 .45 pistol sporting an image of his young bride never left his side.
Through literally years of blood and anguish thoughts of his young wife and daughter were never far from his mind. He fashioned rings and jewelry for his girls back home from silver coins by tapping them meticulously with a GI spoon for untold hours on the hitch of a jeep. Once the coins were beaten into hoops he meticulously carved them to shape with his pocketknife and polished them by hand. Each piece is breathtaking.
With the Axis finally defeated, Eddie at long last got to come home and meet his daughter. During the years she had learned to walk and talk her father was away on another continent fighting for her freedom. This young soldier daily risked his life to ensure that the world his little girl inherited was free from such stuff as Nazis, death camps, and Aryan supermen.
As Eddie’s little girl had learned to speak all the references she had heard concerning her father were in the third person. Eddie is in Africa. Eddie is in Italy. Eddie is in Europe. Eddie will be home soon.
So it remains to this day. Now, even some seven decades hence my mother-in-law still refers to her father by his first name. It puts a lump in my throat every time I hear it. Make no mistake. Nothing about freedom is free.
Like so many heroes of that generation when Eddie came home he wanted to move past the war. These men had seen so much pain, suffering, and destruction that they compensated by building the most vibrant economy the world has ever seen. We all remain beneficiaries of their efforts even today.
A Fixed Point Amidst the Chaos
Around half of the marriages in contemporary America fail. Nowadays we struggle even to define what marriage is. It simply seems we may lack some of that immovable granite constitution that our forebears enjoyed. However, despite having its origins in the maelstrom of global war Sarah and Eddie’s love affair still burns fiercely today after 73 years. They have four kids and grandchildren aplenty, one of whom has brightened my life every day for more than a quarter century as my wife.
There is a great deal to be drawn from this tale. We can take personal lessons in faithfulness, steadfastness, hope, and the simply breathtaking price paid for our freedom. In these vacuous days of iPhones, American Idol, and Twitter it is easy to forget that there was once a time when the entire planet was at war. When the very notion of liberty was mortally threatened Eddie and countless others left home, hearth, and family to do literally whatever it took to cover the bill. For Eddie, the price to be paid was his daughter’s irreplaceable childhood. However, during those dark years of fear, pain, and loneliness Eddie’s pistol remained throughout a quiet testament to who ultimately held the deed to his heart.
Will Dabbs MD is a contributor to HottyToddy.com. He may be reached at DrWildmanMD@hotmail.com.