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Raif: A son's tears, 55 years later

Nov. 17, 2017 at 11:48 p.m.


Last week we paid tribute to our living veterans and remembered those who gave all. This is about a child who mourned his dad's all.

During World War II, I lived with my family in Lubbock, but I missed my cousins, Bobby and Duane, who lived in Fort Worth. I fondly remember all my father's family gathering at Bobby's and Duane's house after church on Sundays to share a huge dinner. Afterward, we kids played flag football in the front yard. I was right there with them, while my only female cousin watched from the sidelines. She wasn't much of a tomboy.

I still remember the night a few years earlier, when I was only 5 years old, when the phone rang. My mother answered, and I watched her face change to reflect horror. My father's dad was on the line, so she handed the phone to him, who accepted the news from the other end more passively.

Don's, Bobby's and Duane's dad had been killed. He was a captain in the Army during World War II. The irony is that he was German — his last name was Richter — and he was killed by Germans. My mother said that over the phone she could hear his wife Ruth, my dad's older sister, wailing in the background.

As it always does, life went on. The war ended, and soldiers came home. Many, if not most ,of those who had been killed were buried in Europe. Apparently, the number was so overwhelming and their deaths happened so quickly that their bodies were not sent home.

We moved back to Fort Worth. My aunt got her master's degree and began teaching. Eventually she remarried. Bob (as he was called now), Duane and I went back to school and on our separate ways, which, for me, was moving to El Paso with my parents. We still enjoyed getting together when my family visited Fort Worth.

Unknown to any of us, Duane took his father's death the hardest, but he never talked to anyone about how he felt, not even his brother. After he married, he finally could talk about his loss to his wife, Brenda. He even wrote a book about his dad, remembering among other things waiting for him to come up the driveway after work. Daddy was home!

Then the war came. I don't know how Don entered the service. I rather doubt he was drafted because he could speak German. I also don't know much about where he served; just that he was in Europe.

About 25 years ago, Brenda called me to say she and Duane had a layover at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. I lived in Maryland at the time so I met them in the waiting lobby and we had a good visit. She said they were going to Europe to find Don's grave.

After their return, we met again, and Brenda told me what happened. They went to Belgium where there was a huge military cemetery. They had no idea where it was, so they began asking the locals about it. A policeman overheard their queries and offered to help. He even took a day off to help them find out in which area of the cemetery Duane's dad was buried.

Surprisingly, the search took several days. But they enjoyed seeing the area and meeting people who lived there. They rented a car and took trips into the countryside. Just being close to the grave site in such a beautiful place helped to relieve some of Duane's anxiety. Meanwhile, the policeman pored over records that would give them a clue in which area to search.

Finally the day came when they knew where to go. Duane was so excited about finally being there that when they drove up to the cemetery parking lot, he was in such a hurry he didn't even close the car door when he got out to run up to the entrance. His excitement was tempered by the fact all he saw were hundreds, if not thousands, of white crosses in a field. There was no directory, as there is at the Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington, to direct them to a specific grave.

He was so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the search he just stood there, having no idea which way to go. Meanwhile, Brenda was in the car praying. All of a sudden, a thin shaft of light from the heavens shined down on one cross. It was his dad's.

When he was a child, little boys were taught not to cry, to act like a man, suck it up. Now, he fell onto the grave and cried 55 years worth of tears.

— Gayle Raif, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum. Find her blog "Limiting God" at news-journal.com.

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