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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Private First Class Edward Barton

My Dad fought in World War II but, like most vets of his generation, never spoke of his experiences. In fact, although I'm sure my life's path has brought me into contact with people who've seen combat during a stint in the military, I don't recall ever having a single conversation about that subject. Has any vet who has seen action ever shared any part of their experiences with you? Imagining myself in those circumstances gives me serious pause. What could I possibly say? Would I have the good sense to say very little?

"Death had no meaning, but still the numbers of them went on and on and in that infinity, there was still horror." Reading that sentence about midway through Birdsong (1993), the best I could do was be grateful for a life that has never put me in harm's way. How does anyone find their way back to a life after the kind of combat trauma Sebastian Faulks describes in his graphic World War I novel?

"We forget we have very nearly died today as we wait to die again tomorrow."  The closest I will ever come to knowing the terror that must have gripped my Dad stepping onto the beach at Normandy is via a sentence like that one from John Boyne's 2011 novel The Absolutist, which also takes place in World War I. Books like Birdsong and The Absolutist and movies like Saving Private Ryan are useful vehicles for me to better understand my late Father's time in combat. How I miss him.


  1. That is so touching and so true. My Dad talked to me a little about WWII. Not something I want to put in this comment section, but would be happy to share over a cup of coffee one of these days. (He was forced into the German army after getting his PhD in Switzerland. He felt he had to go because his mother was part Jewish. His war experiences were the reason we immigrated after my sister was born!)

    1. Ines; Thanks (again) for your comment. I'll look forward to our coffee conversation.