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.