A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

Captain Douglas

In Family, Memoir on February 9, 2013 at 6:33 am
Shoulder patch of the 99th Infantry Division

Shoulder patch of the 99th Infantry Division

We’re having a hell of a snow storm here in Maine. It made me think of this post I put up several years ago. (It’s a bookend to the post put up a couple of weeks ago, Foxhole Stoicism) :

______________________________

December, 1944:¬†My father, and much of the 99th Infantry Division, is trapped behind lines–the Battle of the Bulge. ¬†After sunset, snow knee-deep and falling in the black of the Ardennes Forest, he puts his hand on the shoulder of the solider in front of him, as does the man in front of him, and the man in front of him, and so on. The snake of trapped men silently move through the snow and the woods to the safety of morning light across the river. They do not completely escape detection. As the sun rises, the enemy awakes to discover their trail; rifles secured they follow in pursuit. The line breaks as some of the men are shot. The Germans close in. Dad crosses the river and survives.

My father does not like to talk about it.

I am named after the Captain who led the men out of the darkness, a man who stood at the sharp-end with compass and pen light and confidence. It was the highest honor my father could bestow the man who had saved his life, the gift of naming his son. We are escapees, shuffling through the winter night terrorized. As I have said elsewhere, I am given to metaphor and this is a strong one. As best I know, the human species has no call to origins, to a place of conception. We lack the comfort of a natal stream. There is longing, however. Who does not long for a pen light in the darkness, a leading shoulder or a compass? How can we resist the clearing across the river?

The storm rages and we cannot be ambivalent about being surrounded.

We are all escapees. (A repost from 2009)

In Adventure, Memoir, The Examined Life on May 7, 2012 at 6:00 am

My father was trapped behind lines in the Battle of the Bulge. After sunset, deep in the black of the Ardennes Forest he was instructed to put his hand on the shoulder of the solider in front of him, as did that man, and the man in front of him. The snake of trapped men silently moved through the snow and the woods to the safety of morning light across the river. They did not completely escape detection. As the sun rose, the enemy awoke to discover the trail, grabbed their rifles and rushed in pursuit. Some of the men were shot as the Germans closed in. My father does not like to talk about it.

I am named after the Captain who lead the men out of the darkness, a man who stood at the sharp end with compass and pen light and confidence. It was the highest honor my father could bestow on the man who saved his life.

We are escapees, shuffling through the winter night terrorized. As I have said elsewhere, I am given to metaphor and this is a strong one. As best I know, the human species has no call to origins, to a place of conception. There is longing, however. Who does not long for a pen light in the darkness, a leading shoulder or a compass? How can we resist the clearing across the river?

We cannot be ambivalent about being surrounded.