War Stories

Yesterday I visited my father-in-law in the hospital. He's just had his right knee replaced, and none-too-soon if you ask me. I won't get into the particulars of his knee issues, but suffice it to say that he's had this operation coming for a very long time, and every time the medical community tries to help him, more harm seems to be done. He's apparently coming along nicely in his recovery, I'm told.

But that's not what this post is about.

As I started by saying, I was visiting my father-in-law in the hospital, and upon arrival he greeted me and introduced me to his semi-private-room-mate, Lloyd, who was in advanced years, but probably not older than, say, 80. Actually, if he was 80, he looks pretty good. Lloyd pretty much kept to himself, and seemed to be staring either at a paper or a book, or at the wall directly in front of him. In fairness, I couldn't see what he was looking at, because of the angle I was at.

So, the FIL and I continue to chatter as I eat my lunch, and as he eats his creamed-chicken-soup (yum!) and passes on the pinkish looking milkshake, and the regular milk he's been so lovingly offered up by the cafeteria. I was dying to slip him some turkey and havarti on whole wheat, but that's probably not what he's supposed to be putting into his body after a traumatic orthopedic surgery.

I'm getting off track again. So anyway, we're chatting...

...and the nurse comes in to see the FIL and Lloyd, and has to move Lloyd's tray away. Asking if he's all done with his food, Lloyd indicates that he's finished, and says loudly,

"I can't believe I'm not finishing everything on that tray. When I was in prison camp, I swore to myself that I wouldn't waste a crust of bread. Heck, we used to take turns going down to the kitchen to cut the bread, just so that we could lick our fingers and get up the little bits of bread on the table."

Then followed a nontrivial amount of silence, and me casually looking at the FIL to ascertain if he'd heard what I just heard.

The FIL and I continued to chat about little things for a while, until he could obviously take it no longer. He asked,

"Lloyd, which Prisoner of War camp were you in?"

And then the story came out.

Lloyd tells us he was in Camp XYZ (I can't remember the name, sadly -- I was too mezmerized actually picturing this old guy in a Nazi camp. It might have been Natzweiler-Struthof), but before that, he was 'running around in the French Underground for nine months' until the Gestapo got a hold of him and carted him off to camp.

"They kept me in solitary confinement for 3 months, which basically means they beat you and kept you unconscious most of the time. I was sentenced to death three times.

"The first two times, they didn't wake me, which I guess was a good thing. The third time, they took me out and put me against a wall and were going to shoot me. They asked me, "do you have anything to say?", and I then somebody said something. I don't know what it was, and I'm not sure I'd want to know, but they didn't shoot me.

"Then, when the Russians were a week away, they marched us -- 5,000 -- across Germany."

Lloyd's young-looking wife or older daughter came into the room at this point and interrupted his train of thought, which was too bad. I would have loved to hear him talk all afternoon about his experiences, but it was not to be. Perhaps Lloyd will be chatty when we go by to visit later today.

I think part of what intrigues me about Lloyd and his experiences are the fact that I live in a seaside, military-focussed city -- one that I'm not from, so I'm constantly finding the attention paid to the military and our war history fascinating. Also, I had a grandfather in World War II, but I never had a chance to get to know him (he died when I was 7) and hear any of his stories. Somewhere in my mother's house is a lockbox with his effects in it, including some war souvenirs. I've never been too keenly interested in stories about Nazi Germany (save for a few historical fiction books penned by Bodie Thoene which I read some time ago), but now I'm thinking that the reason for my lack of interest is just because I haven't been that close to it. Meeting Lloyd and hearing but a few words of his life story have me wanting to know more.

But figuring out the path to learning more will not be easy. The historical resources are many and varied -- possibly too many to choose wisely from. I took a lot of war history in junior high and high school, but that would have been 15-20 years ago (yeesh!). So, for those of you who may be reading this, feel free to suggest some resources that you've found particularly interesting.


Posted bythemikestand at 12:18 PM  

4 stepped up to the mike:

candy said... 2:58 PM, February 24, 2006  

If you're looking for Nazi Germany stuff, you might trie Elie Weisel's new book, "Night."

Short of that, let me know what you're interested in. As a history major, I might have something to offer.

themikestand said... 3:05 PM, February 24, 2006  

I think my main problem with History (as subject) is that, as taught to me, it was little more than a very long bulleted list of dates, battles, etc. I may have had one module in High School which did more than that.

So, even getting some good snippets of WW II to build on what I've learned through the years (In my defense, I'm not totally oblivious) would be great.

I'll check into that book. Thanks Candy!

candy said... 9:11 PM, February 24, 2006  

That was my problem with history as a kid too.

My major now is American Studies, which is history, with a tilt. Basically, rather than studying the dates, names and battles, which are instantaneously accessible to anyone with Google, we study the culture of the people by reading primary source materials. So we'd study the Revolutionary War by reading Ben Franklin's autobiography, or we study the conquest of Mexico by reading Las Casas reports to Queen Isabella.

I find it much more interesting, and there are lots of those things available. Lots on line even.

Sassy said... 12:41 PM, March 01, 2006  

Recap is up.

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