This photograph of my father was taken before the war gave him PTSD, before he had been tortured by the affects of photographing piles of dead bodies in the Aleutian Islands, before he saw his own friends killed right in front of his eyes. Look how young and happy he was. It makes me so sad to realize what mom meant when she always said, “he was different when he got back from the war.” This photo reflects the man who was my true father before he was traumatized. This man was the one whose last words to me were, “I love you, Wally.” I can honestly say that I love this man in a way I never did when he was alive. Sadly, I believe I inherited his mood disorder which I hate in myself… I sometimes act just like him. But on the positive side, I finally understand him. God has given me such a wonderful gift of peace in my soul from all the strife we had between us. I only wish I understood this when I was a child. Things might have been different. I do regret that we never got to share a loving, peaceful relationship. Maybe I will get the chance one day if Heaven is anything like what I’m thinking it might be. I love you, Dad. I miss you more today than yesterday.
With the Rolling Stone Magazine’s recent publication of the Afghanistan Kill Team’s “trophy” photographs at Abu Ghraib, I am reminded of an occurrence in my life when I was looking through my parent’s attic in the early 1970’s. I came across a big cardboard packing box tucked away in the furthest corner of the dark attic edges. I opened the box filled with hundreds of photographs which I found out later had been taken by my father while he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands after one of the most bloody battles of World War II. The photographs which are ingrained in my mind forever were piles of dead, bloody bodies with American soldiers proudly showing off their prize booty. There were photographs which reminded me of fishermen showing off the biggest catch of their trip.
I was in such shock looking at just a few of the photographs lying on top of the pile. I went downstairs and asked my father why these photographs were in our attic. He immediately growled at me that I was not to be looking in that box, so put it back where you found it and get out of the attic. My mother pulled me aside and quietly explained that these photographs were partially cause for my father’s shattered emotional state upon his return from the war.
I remembered the night I was awakened when I was seven years old by the emergency medics taking my father out of the house and taken away to the hospital. My two sisters and I were told he had a “bad reaction to his medication.” What medication? Why was he dragged out of our house in a straight jacket like a crazed man? I remembering visiting him the hospital. When he came home he was regularly having fits of anger. The reason for his fits was always explained by my mother as signs “…of his stress at work.” Funny how my father’s job as Chief Warrant Officer for the State of Missouri National Guard and later at the Pentagon would cause such emotional instability. He worked with numbers all day. Were all accountants at risk for such emotional burn-outs?
Both my parents are now deceased, and my sisters never saw the photographs. I am forever tormented by these images of American soldiers showing off their “kill team trophies.” I have been tormented since the 70’s by these photographs, and I only briefly glanced at the photographs. I can only imagine the trauma caused by actually being the photographer of these images, nonetheless the killers.