Witness

Leilani SquireBlog2 Comments

Witness

Inscription written by World War II veteran Clifford Fluck inside personal copy of the book Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose.


Many years ago, I was back east visiting family for the holidays. I don’t remember if it was Thanksgiving or Christmas, but I do remember my sister’s house full of family members from both sides. And what I remember most was sitting at the kitchen table with Clifford, my sister’s father-in-law, whom I had just met for the first time. I’ve often since wondered why the time we sat and talked, and sometimes remained silent, is what I remember most about that holiday visit with my sister and her family.

During this 2016 holiday season, I found out that Clifford was a BAR gunner and fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was at Remagen Bridgehead. When I learned this, I understood why we sat at that kitchen table more in silence than engaging in chitchat. Yet, I wish I knew then what I know now about veterans and combat and listening. I wish I had said something, as we sat at the kitchen table so many years ago, that would have prompted him to begin to tell his story so I could have listened.

If I knew then, what I know now, I would have sensed the buried secrets, I would have witnessed the silent anguish behind his expression. I would have put 2 + 2 together and come up with Soldier’s Heart, Shell Shock, Battle Fatigue—the invisible wounds of the soul and the heart that are hidden and buried deep within the soldiers who have fought in war. How can a young man who was inducted into the Army on June 21, 1944 and who served in Company B, 38th Infantry Regiment as a BAR gunner and who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was on the Remagen Bridge Head remain unscathed? How can a man receive a Bronze Medal and three Battle Medals and remain the same as he was before he went to war?

If only I had known this about Clifford, I would have sat and waited until he began to speak. I would have opened my heart, let him see there was someone who wanted to listen, there was someone who wanted him to tell his story so he could begin to heal the parts of him that were so wounded.

The word forgiveness popped into my mind when I realized who this old man was when I met him that Holiday Season. Don’t misunderstand me—he’s not the one to be forgiven for how he dealt with Battle Fatigue after he came back to this country. I am the one to be forgiven because I didn’t see behind his silence. I am the one to ask his forgiveness for not listening to his silence, to the untold stories of his loss and grief and who knows what else he buried within his heart.

And now that I know, what am I going to do? I’m going to honor Clifford’s service and sacrifice and silence and secrets by writing this blog.

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About the Author
Leilani Squire

Leilani Squire

Leilani Squire is the Founder and Director of Returning Soldiers Speak. She was born at Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu while her father, Grant R. Squire, was deployed on an aircraft carrier off the coast of Okinawa during the Korean War. She is a writer, creativity coach, and since 2010, has been working with veterans and their families to help them tell their stories.

2 Comments on “Witness”

  1. Thank you, Ken, for writing about your father in your comment about this blog. It’s funny how something that was said in response to a question (and in the case of your friend, not even a question you asked) can stay with us. I find it haunting, in a way. I appreciate your kind words about this forum and the work I do to support and encourage veterans to write and speak out. It means a lot to me, what you say about that.

    If I can help one person “unbottle” what’s bottled up inside, if that one story or paragraph can help one person move toward understanding and wholeness, then the time and enegy spent will be worth it. I wonder what it would have been like if veterans like your father and my father and Clifford had a place to go to write and be heard. How would that have affected their lives, and our lives, too? I must admit, sometimes I wonder why I do what I do, but when I read comments like yours, I know why I do this work. Our stories are who we are. So many times I wish I had prodded my father to tell me more; he was like your father and Clifford-he didn’t talk about his experience in Korea or Europe. Our loss, huh?

    And as I write those last three words, the thought occured to me: I don’t want any more loss in this regards. Especially now, we must tell our stories and listen to one another. They say that the pen is mightier than the sword. I guess now is the time for us to test this ancient phrase. Thanks again for being such a great support of Returning Soldiers Speak!

  2. Ken Klemm

    Well said. I also wonder how many of those who suffered through the horrors of combat were unable to find release because they kept things “bottled up” inside them. It brings to my mind my own experience with my father. I knew that he had served in the Army, but never got more than a few stories about barracks life. I wonder what he saw, because he was born in 1932, and was in prime military age when Korea broke out. I suspect that he was involved with that war, but I can never know because he wouldn’t talk about that. The closest he ever came was when a friend of mine, when we were on a camping trip, asked him if he had ever killed anyone, and I remember to this day, my Dad replied, “That’s not a question you ask people.”
    That has stayed with me to this day. And that is why this forum, and all the work you do to help veterans speak out about the unspeakable is so important.

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