A Memorial Day Salute To My Soldier Dad
About six weeks later, a small cardboard box arrived in the mail addressed to my sister with a very official-looking label – United States Department of Defense. When she opened it, she found a letter from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and a raft of medals, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
We later discovered that Dad was supposed to have been awarded a Silver Star – he’d been recommended by several officers – but according to family legend, he got on the wrong side of a superior officer. It seems that a Colonel wanted my father, a Lieutenant, to defuse mines around a French chateau owned by a particularly attractive French countess. Dad refused to put his men in unnecessary danger to help the Colonel’s love life, and so the recommendation for the Silver Star never went forward. Of course, we bombarded Dad with questions about how he won the Bronze Star, but characteristically, he refused to talk about it saying only, “It wasn’t anything. I was just doing what I was supposed to do.”
Thirty-five years later, in August of 1997, my husband and I took his first grandson, then just eleven, to Normandy. There, we rented a car and followed exactly the path my father’s platoon had taken, fighting all the way, from Utah Beach to Cherbourg in the D-Day invasion. We did it because we wanted Ian to understand the great sacrifice his grandfather and so many others had made for him. We brought back pictures and mementos for Dad and planned on sharing them at Christmas. My father died a month after we returned.
The local American Legion provided a three-gun salute for Dad’s funeral; and as his casket was lowered, Ian took the sand from Utah Beach he’d carefully saved in a small plastic bag for his grandfather and sprinkled it into the black Iowa earth.Chriss Winston was the first woman to head the speechwriting office at the White House Office of Speechwriting under George H.W. Bush. She is also the co-author of How To Raise An American (Crown Forum).