In the Middle of the Country…

“In the middle of the country, in the middle of the century” – By Bob Greene

In the house where I grew up, there was a portrait hanging on the wall of the first floor, not far from the kitchen. It wasn’t a famous painting, not the work of a well-known artist. In fact, even though, in my mind’s eye, it is the most memorable portrait I have ever encountered, I still have no idea of precisely who held the brush and applied the oil to the canvas.

I do know that the portrait was done in Italy, during WWII, and that the artist was an Army buddy of my father’s. Apparently this man enjoyed painting portraits for his fellow soldiers in the 91st Infantry Division, and he did them during down moments in the long months the 91st spent in North Africa and Italy in 1944 and 1945. The artist’s subject – the man whose face looks off the canvas – was my dad.

He virtually never spoke about the painting; it was on the wall of our house all during my childhood, and later, when he and my mother moved to another house, they took it with them. Today the portrait hangs on a wall in the house where my mother lives by herself, now that he is dead.

The years of the war were – I now know – the most important and affecting of his life, the years of which he was the very proudest. If you were to have asked him – which I don’t think we ever did – what was the best accomplishment of his lifetime, I’m quite certain he would have said, without hesitation: serving in the United States Army in the greatest conflict in the history of man.

Not that he was a hero, or a renowned soldier; he was neither. He was there. That was enough Рhe, like all those American soldiers and sailors and airmen of the war years, was there. He knew he did not face the daily peril that the frontline guys, the dogfaces, did, and he never pretended that it was otherwise. But he was there Рin Africa, in Italy, on the long march through the Apennine mountains and, when the victory in Europe was won, back through Bologna and Florence and Naples Рand it was the period of his  manhood that mattered most. It was Рun-sentimentally Рthe time of his life.

Perhaps, when he was alone with our mother, he spoke in detail of those days and nights, but to us children he talked of the war only in the most general of ways. It was almost as if he thought he would bore us if he told us war stories; it was almost as though he didn’t want us to think him tedious.

Just Another War

“Future generations may dismiss the Second World War as ‘just another war”. Those who experienced it know that it was a war justified in its aims and successful in accomplishing them. Despite all the killing and destruction that accompanied it, the Second War War was a good war.” – A.J.P. Taylor