I just finished watching the final installment of Ken Burns’s mammoth documentary series The War about World War II. Public television stations in North and South Carolina have been running it almost continuously for several weeks now. I’d seen bits and pieces of it along the way, but didn’t try to watch the whole thing for fear it might be too overwhelming. I think I was right. I choked up at several points during this last episode, thinking not only in general terms of the horrors the veterans and survivors of that war had to endure, but also in particular of my own parents who lived through that terrible, awesome time.
I especially thought of my Dad who was an Army Air Force pilot during those years. I wish I had another chance to thank him and tell him how proud I am of him for what he did for our country. It made me wish I had asked him in greater detail about what he did during those years. If I know Dad, he would have shrugged it off, insisted he didn’t do anything special, and told a story about something funny that happened to him. Earlier this year I tried to obtain a copy of his service records from The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, but I quickly realized I didn’t have enough information to locate his records because I didn’t know his service number, his unit, or his precise dates of service. I also received a form letter from NPRC informing me that his records may have been lost in a fire there in 1973. I’ll keep trying. I’d like to know what he did. It seems my brothers and sisters have different recollections of what he told them about his wartime service, even disagreeing about whether he went overseas. It doesn’t matter. Even if it turns out he spent the war peeling potatoes at Fort Dix, I would still be proud of him.
I also thought of my Mom during the film. Katharine Phillips of Mobile, Alabama, one of the people that Burns chose to describe life on the home front, reminded me quite a bit of Mom and has several things in common with Dad. Ms. Phillips was born in Mobile; Dad was born in Birmingham. Both she and my Dad attended Auburn University. The film made me realize how much I still miss my parents and how much I have a new respect for them because of the remarkable experiences they lived through.