I don’t talk about my Dad much. Once I turned 13 something changed and we kind of became enemies at times. There were good times when he told me stories, but they were mostly war stories because that was so much of his life and if even half of what he said was true he was not a guy to piss off in a fight.
My Dad was 15 when my Grandfather divorced my Grandmother. His sister stayed with her Mom and my Dad got to go with my Grandfather. I never met anyone on that side of the family, but my Grandfather had the brilliant idea to move from Philadelphia back to his native city of Riga, Latvia. 1930 was not a very good time for this because shortly there after Latvia was at war with Russia in the takeover of the Baltic states.
My Dad always laughed at how he and his friends would blow up train tracks the Russians used and steal their barrels of vodka and bury them in their backyards so no one could find them. How many punk ass teens would go around blowing up trains for the vodka just to get a buzz on over the weekend. This went on for awhile until the Russians started wondering why the train tracks all around a certain area were getting blown up. One of his friends got shot because when you bury vodka in the ground you have to dig it up and you usually spilled some when you’re trying to get it out of the barrel. My Dad’s friend and family were shot on site by the Russians.
My Grandfather was so furious with what my Dad had been doing that he tossed him on a boat at 18 to send him back to the U.S. He didn’t get along to well with his mother and sister and he decided to join up with the Merchant Marines because it seemed like a safe bet for him at the time. Well, it wasn’t 1941 yet so he was pretty safe. Until Pearl Harbor and then he was a Merchant Marine during wartime. That meant he wasn’t a civilian, but now a soldier.
He was sent off to supply the ground troops in Europe along with moving troops to Europe and shooting at anything hostile in between. His ship was stationed in Italy that was safe at the time. It was Northern Italy I believe and when Germany finished with Austria they came to start talking with the Italians and my Dad was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seeing the Germans approaching while he was on shore out of uniform they were suspicious of him. Luckily he spoke German and convinced them he was one of them. Great. The Germans took him back with them and now he was fighting for Germany by being sent on Operation Barbarossa to help dig trenches for the attack on Stalin.
While on the front line Russian soldiers caught him and told them he was merely a Russian peasant farmer who was capture by the Nazi’s and put to work. He spoke Russian as well so he managed to keep a bullet out of his head and now was serving for the Russian military.
He somehow managed to escape one night and I’m sure there was lots of vodka involved. He worked his way back to Italy to a part of Italy that wasn’t so friendly to Americans. So now he’s wearing the uniform of Il Duce’s army. He was stationed on the coast in Southern Italy which oddly enough a passing Merchant Marine ship became the target of the coastal forces.
As my Dad always said the Italian Army was so corrupt that they weren’t worth shit in a fight. He managed to get out of the way and hide and when the Merchant Marines send scout teams ashore his perfect English came back and he convinced them that he was one of them. He got back on ship and they checked him out and found him to be who said he was. He was back to safety by then and the war was almost over.
He went through hell during WWII, but he was always a survivor. The war was not kind to him and they didn’t talk about PTSD back then. They just gave you more cigarettes and beer. Towards the end of his life before the hear disease set in he was smoking a pack of Pall Mall non-filtered and drinking a 12 pack of Budweiser a day. I can see now it was to help him forget the memories of WWII. It didn’t always work. I would always see him go off and cry around the holidays because they were never fun for him. We don’t have many pictures of my Dad for some reason. I guess he only liked to be photographed with me when I was a kid. I did manage to find one and that was the day I came home from the hospital. It’s probably one of the few pics of him where he has even close to a smile on his face.