by Stephanie Janiczek
Clash Daily Contributor
My Dad was a pretty simple man. He grew up during the Great Depression, was in the Army Air Force in World War II and he never finished high school. On the outside people would say he grew up poor and never amounted to much. A lot of elites today look at men like my Dad as quaint fools. My Dad was nothing like that. He in fact enjoyed toying with people who felt themselves superior and he could make them look like fools. That was awesome to see to.
Dad learned the value of money the hard way. He told me a story once about what a nickel would buy. Two sweet rolls and a donut at the Bakery and as a kid if he had a nickel he’d buy the pastries because there wasn’t a lot to eat at home. There was a BB gun in the hardware stores window in Downtown La Crosse that cost a dollar and he wanted it very badly. He was never able to save the money for that BB gun because when he had a nickel it was either eat or save.
When it the winters came to the La Crosse river valley Papa and his brother Joe would carry a bucket and gather coal off the train tracks to heat the little house that Dad’s family was renting. The firemen on the trains would toss coal onto the tracks so the poorer people could gather it to heat their homes. When Dad finally had his own shotgun he shared it with his cousin Mike.
It was when he met my Mom and decided to follow her back to Chicago that he was able to actually find work. Jobs were plentiful in the Windy City and he lived there, courted Mom and, while he never said it, he sent money home. He didn’t like Chicago because it was too big, dirty and there was no river to explore, but Mom was there and the family at home needed the money. So he toughed it out because anything a person really wants in life has a struggle on the path to attaining that goal.
The Nazis were on the move in Europe and the ominous feeling people get before they are dragged into a drama they can’t control was settling on the USA. Franklin Roosevelt was if anything a realist and he knew eventually the United States would find itself embroiled in World War II and it would be men like my father and my uncles who would have to fight that war.
My Dad always said World War II was nothing more than a continuation of World War I, after all the Germans didn’t really surrender, they signed an armistice and the way the allies behaved after the Great War was over created very deep resentments in the German people. The trenches of World War I my Dad told me is where the Nazis were born. I never forgot that all through college when I was studying German history.
My Dad and Mom had gone to Mass on December 7th and came back to my grandparent’s apartment for Sunday dinner and were met at the door by my Mom’s aunt who told them the world was ending. The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and the USA, whether it wanted to or not, was now going to have to fight. My Dad and my grandfather, who had fought in the trenches with the Canadian Army in WWI, tried to enlist. My Dad was told to wait, he’d be drafted and my Grandpa, who was fifty, was told to go home. My Dad was drafted and ended up in the United States Army Air Force, headed to England and the greatest air armada ever seen, the mighty 8th Air Force. Every time I see a B 24 Liberator, B 17 Flying Fortress, or a P 51 Mustang I think of my Dad and feel a pride that is limitless.
My Dad was the finest example of the “Greatest Generation” I ever knew. They did what they had to. They had a sense of duty that entitled, later generations do not understand. As the youngest of nine and part of what we call Generation X I spent a lot of time with my Dad, hunting, fishing, cleaning gill nets or watching him clean animals he trapped.