A documentary about allied bomber pilots in World War II provoked speculation about my late father’s wartime experiences - not the least of which was having been shot down by a German submarine in the North Atlantic. Apparently the submarine sank and the plane crashed into the sea. Of the small aircrew who clung alternately in and out of the dinghy for nine hours three died. The memory of that event must have burnished my father’s mind and seriously altered his view of this world. As I remarked today upon watching HBO’s documentary The Cold Blue it is no wonder my father was seldom visibly inspired. After that sequence of horrors all else pales.
I question not only what my own response might have been had I been a young man in that era. The dread of war is an obvious impact. Accepting the murderous undertaking raises challenges as well. I doubt any of them felt like heroes but they probably rationalized their duty. However the acts are characterized I am certain it left inescapable impressions many of which they no doubt preferred not to recall. The little I know of my father’s wartime affairs is taken from what others have written or told me. I consider the reluctance of my father to speak of his thoughts was partly what nurtured his general obscurity.
Only months before my father died in a small private room at the Veterans’ Hospital in Ottawa I sat on the window ledge near the end of his steel bed where he was by then largely confined. It was a miserable winter day, damp and depressing. We had never shared much conversation so I didn’t expect anything different. Nor was I mistaken. He did however comment that he thought he would be less inconvenient if he were dead. I remember sensing the logic of his statement - not its sentimentality. I cannot but imagine that it was such candid analysis or pragmatism that got him through the war and his life that followed. There really wasn’t a lot of room for pretence. It may also have strengthened his love of fishing and his grandchildren.