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Lady Liberty A Beacon of Our Bravest

This week’s series is Stories About my Father. If this is your first visit to this series, please click here to begin at the beginning. Thank you for spending time in this little sliver of the web.
A slide show accompanies the post today, pictures of The Lady taken by Robert Johnson, author of The Quotidian Hudson. The visuals are a powerful accompaniment to this story about my father. Please follow this link to experience both pieces of the story. Thanks to Robert for covering this from his home in Manhattan, and to his daughter Abigail for helping him select the winning shots.

Blasting gusts slammed his face as he stood on deck. He had one night in New York, and he was comatose from lack of sleep and sensory overload. East Tennessee was a backwater otherworld compared to this place, this metropolis of booming experience. Trying to do it all in one day (and one night) had been a mistake. His head pounded, and his mouth still flamed from losing a bet in Chinatown. He didn’t know what he ate, but it was seasoned with the lake of fire. He leaned on the railing and opened his mouth to catch the cooling air.

Nothing helped.

Buildings rose like ragged teeth on the receding skyline. It looked foreign to his countrified eyes, nothing like the rolling greenness of home. He shifted, tugged at the waist of his uniform under his winter-issue coat. How could he possibly memorize such a tumbling jumble of unfamiliar sights? Squinting, he tried to count the spires and narrow rectangles as they undulated with the bobbing of the water. Movement made his eye innaccurate. Or were his mistakes caused by the tears clotting in the corners, threatening to spill mortification down his cheeks in front of everyone?

He was only eighteen. He’d never been away from home. Basic training followed by a swift commission to West Germany left his immature mind muddled. What sounded like an adventure a few short months ago had become………something else. He never thought about dying back then, never considered what that meant. The ease of home was something he took for granted. Now, standing on the deck of a ship, he could see his only touchstone to home disappearing, consumed by the foaming wake. It wasn’t home, but it was. The realization that he might never glimpse it again forced a tear from his left eye. He shifted to flick it away before anyone noticed.

He was scared, though he fought the admission. Who knew what lay on the other side of the teeming Atlantic, what remnants of war were left behind, forgotten for him to find? How would he function with people who were still living amongst the charred wreckage of a long-concluded war? What would he say the first time someone told him about family members who disappeared, or the hard choices they had to make in the pulsating point of a moment? What would it feel like to canvas a village of rubble and have the ground explode underneath him, to have his last seconds consumed by abandoned artillery? Would he remember, in his dying seconds, what home looked like? Would he be given time to conjure it again before he was gone?

Eighteen. Too young to face his own end. He hadn’t lived.

Wiping another tear, his eyes darted for a final image, something he could carry with him on his journey into the hell of what humans inflict upon one another. Liquid was replaced by light, an upraised beacon teasing him across the waves. He took in her serene face, the drape of her clothing, her arm proudly holding the torch.

The promise of Liberty. It was the reason for everything. Through his interminable tour, She would be the unifying image that carried him through. 

Carried him home.

To my Father and all other veterans, thank you for the sacrifices you and your families made. Happy Veterans Day.

34 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great story and Robert’s pics are wonderful as always.

    Thanks to all our Veterans for their service.

    A poem by Philip Freneau:

    But fame is theirs – and future days
    On pillar’d brass shall tell their praise;
    Shall tell – when cold neglect is dead –
    “These for their country fought and bled.”

    November 11, 2011
  2. Great story and tanks to all our veterans. And thanks to those who will be veterans in the future. My son is determined to follow in your footsteps.

    And on a different note that will tell you where my mind is, I could have sworn your title made reference to the “bacon” of liberty. I thank our veterans for reserving our breakfast traditions too!

    November 11, 2011
    • I saw that picture of his uniformed self. He looked so proud.

      Now, you’ve got me craving bacon…….I am off to go find some shortly.

      November 11, 2011
      • Are you back yet? Or still in Hotlanta? I bet they have some bacon and grits near you.

        And thank you. He is very proud and we are proud of him. He just made Chief and also assistant head of the academic team. Now if we could just get him to clean his room….

        November 11, 2011
      • I am in DC working. Would love to carve out some time to head over to Arlington today, but I am booked in meetings until after dark. Will be back tomorrow.

        It is the nature of teenagers to not clean their rooms. I never did. Most likely, neither did you.

        November 11, 2011
  3. Beautifully written as always. Tears filled my eyes as I read it. I was raised with Military pride and I am thankful to all the Military out there AND their families. It’s been a lovely week getting to know a little bit about your father Andra. Thank you for sharing him with us.

    November 11, 2011
    • The beauty of this post is that it is your dad, too, and scores of other moms and dads, and people who will someday be.

      November 11, 2011
  4. Amber Deutsch #

    Enormously moving piece. So grateful for your dad and the vets in my family and community, and those I don’t know.

    November 11, 2011
    • I cried writing it, Amber. My dad told me a smidgen of this story several months ago, and I saved it for today. Poor Robert Johnson probably took 800 pictures of The Lady for this partnership, and they add so much to it.

      November 11, 2011
  5. I am crying, crying, crying. I can’t imagine that much fear and bravery bottled up into one person.

    November 11, 2011
  6. You brought me to tears again, Andra. This was very moving. When I start to tally the family members and friends (and former co-workers) whose stories are embodied here — overwhelming…..

    November 11, 2011
    • It is so hard for me to imagine facing something like this, Karen. I cannot fail to be grateful to those who choose to face such things.

      November 11, 2011
  7. The essence of bravery is that it is despite fear. I can’t imagine how frightened these young men were, going off into the unknown… Really a good post Andra. You brought it all to life!

    November 11, 2011
    • The essence of bravery is that it is despite fear. So very true, Denise. So very true.

      November 11, 2011
  8. As I read this I could see myself transported to the deck of that boat trying to imagine those thoughts. It has to be a terrible thing to know that you are going off to the unknown, to serve your country, and not know what you will find, or if you will make it back to loved ones. I am glad that your father and mine both did make it back, and were able to share some of the stories they have. My father served in the army for 26 years and was fiercely patriotic. I am so thankful for those that have paid the ultimate price for our freedom and for those that are serving today all over the world.

    November 11, 2011
    • I hoped to transport the reader, James, to put him or her in the scene. Thanks for letting me know I did it.

      November 11, 2011
  9. A beautiful and moving tribute to both your father and all veterans. What a lovely gift!

    November 11, 2011
    • I hope he gets to read it, Elizabeth. I will probably have to broadcast it on tv somehow. 😉

      November 11, 2011
  10. Quite simply one of the most incredible pieces of writing I’ve ever read from your pen. (or typing as the case may be.)

    This bookends so poignantly the most inspirational presentation given by General Mark Welsh to the Air Force Academy Cadets. Andra, you captured exactly the spirit that he shares.

    Watch this.

    Carnell, you should especially have your son watch this. General Welsh is someone I would give my loyalty to. He is a real leader.

    Watch the entire video. It is long, but you will be so glad.

    November 11, 2011
    • Thank you. Will watch the video before bed.

      November 11, 2011
      • I’m really amazed at how you were able to tell a human story, that resonates regardless of gender.

        How hard it was for these boys and girls to go off to war…then and now. So many have paid so much. I am grateful.

        November 11, 2011
      • Me too, Cheryl.

        November 12, 2011
  11. earlybird #

    A beautifully written tribute. Love the image of him trying to cool his mouth… as if the whole thing wasn’t miserable enough he has that to contend with too…

    November 12, 2011
    • He did that to himself, though. 😉 My Father deplores spicy food to this day because of something he ate in NY on that trip. He won’t give me details, so I gave them to myself. 🙂

      November 12, 2011
  12. This is wonderful sweetie and my heart ached for that young brave soldier. Thank you for telling it so well.

    I love you and your mom and dad!


    November 12, 2011
    • I love you too, Marie. Glad your house survived the fire without damage.

      November 12, 2011
  13. What a cool portrait of your father. The lady liberty pictures are lovely, too, but the image of your own parent at age 18 struggling with homesickness is extremely powerful.

    May 28, 2012
    • Dad never mentioned how he felt, other than to say it was striking to float past the Lady and know he might never see her again. I’m begging him and Mom to go to NYC with us for Father’s Day. It would be fun to go out there with him.

      May 28, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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