Stray Signals

Trying to picture veterans the way they used to be – Brownwood Bulletin

The old pictures are beginning to fade, but they are new to me.

My father served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and access to my parents’ personal papers has heightened the respect I’ve always held for him.

Photographs of my father from his military years are few, so they are treasured. My sister and I are rushing to make digital copies after the originals landed in our hands after Mom died last spring.

Dad never talked much about his time in the military, which is typical of most veterans. If he said anything, it was to downplay his role.

We learned that Dad was the radioman in a two-man fighter-bomber after he credited that assignment for his interest in electronic communications — which included becoming an amateur “ham” radio operator. He was hard of hearing because of an injury he suffered during the war. Static coming out of the headset he used damaged an eardrum, and while the disability wasn’t too obvious, he did manipulate the condition to his advantage when it suited him.

He seldom heard Mom when she asked him to, let’s say, turn down the television volume, but he sprang from the bed when his infant daughter moaned quietly while asleep on the opposite side of the house.

It had to do with the frequencies of their voices, he explained.

Regardless, the hearing problem in that one ear was enough of an issue that the Navy Reserves chose not to call him back into active duty when the war in Korea broke out five years after his discharge during World War II. It was just as well the Navy didn’t want him serving again, because he had a wife and two-week-old baby boy back home. I was that boy.

The pictures of Dad in uniform, poised to fight the enemy, don’t align with the memories of the man I knew, a man eager to read a book to his children or to tend his flower and vegetable gardens. Thinking back to his later years when he endured a series of heart and stomach ailments, it’s difficult to recognize that man in the pictures — a sailor so healthy and fit, a man with movie-star looks and wavy black hair.

The photos suggest he was a young man with a streak of mischief in him, but maybe I’m projecting that into the black-and-white images because I had been told it was

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