Saturday, May 29, 2010

Daddy's War

Memorial Day is meant to be a time of reflection and gratitude for those who have served our country. Originally known as Decoration Day, this holiday was a time for the nation to honor those who died in military service and to all that had served in the military.

As I read the newspapers from summer 1943 I can't help but imagine how much significance Decoration Day must have had that year as so many Americans were oversees, fighting the Axis in so many places across the globe. Each page of the paper contains a war story, a photo of a local soldier, or store ads promoting Decoration Day sales (some things haven't changed).

Additionally, the papers are thick with articles and op-ed pieces regarding the ever-expanding draft. Draft registration during WWII occurred in several waves:
  • October 16, 1940 - all men 21-31 years residing in the U.S. (native born, naturalized, or alien).
  • July 1, 1941 - men who reached age 21 since the first registration.
  • February 16, 1942 - men 20-21 and 35-44 years of age.
  • April 27, 1942 - Men 45-64 years of age. Not liable for military service.
  • June 30, 1942 - Men 18-20 years of age.
  • December 10-31, 1942 - Men who reached the age of 18 since the previous registration.
In general, men between the ages of 18 and 35 comprised the bulk of the early draft. Specifically, men between the ages of 18 and 35 who were not fathers comprised the bulk of the early draft. As the war intensified and military presence spread between multiply theaters of war more soldiers were needed to fight the good fight.

In June 1943 there was clear pressure from some circles to begin enlisting fathers, as evidenced by the newspaper articles I've read. Fathers were still an important source of income for civilian families, and provided significant labor for a war industrial complex that couldn't find enough workers. Still, a soldier was a soldier, and some claimed that the soldiers that were fathers would fighter harder because they had so much to protect back home.

For our own quasi-1940's experience, TMOTH would have participated in the Feb 16, 1942 registration (he's currently 36, edging towards 37). His fatherly status would have protected him so far, which is why for our experiment he is at home, working in the modern equivalent of wartime industrial job.

In our 2010 reality, though, I read those letters from 1943 wives concerned about their husbands' futures, worried that their children might grow up without their fathers...and I connect with those letters in a painful and intimate way.

You see, TMOTH has been through a war. Not the "traditional" military engagement that Decoration Day was originally meant to honor. In April of 2006 TMOTH was diagnosed with stage IIIB Hodgkin's Lymphoma. While Hodgkin's Lymphoma is generally considered a "good" cancer (i.e. high cure rate), the following six months of chemo he endured were harsh by most survivors' standards. Chemo is scary. All the things you take for granted about your body - eating, sleeping, memory - are affected.

After a clean PET scan in September 2006 he was officially in initial remission. The next few months were a time of healing and welcoming back a loved who had been not quite present/not quite gone for half a year. Unfortunately, a routine PET scan in February 2007 showed that the cancer had returned.

If his previous chemo was boot camp, then this was war. Another month of even more intense chemo followed in preparation for a stem-cell transplant. Informed-consent papers were signed, acknowledging that the treatment induced mortality rate was somewhere near 25-30%. He knew, we all knew, that there was a chance that he wouldn't survive the transplant, let alone the cancer. Chemo tries to kill the cancer before it kills you; a stem cell transplant aims to kill a significant part of you (your bone marrow and your ability to produce new red and white blood cells) without causing your death as a side effect.

It is war.

But rather than global networks and intercontinental missiles this is a war on an individual (or family-sized) level. There is a strategy, an attack and counter-attack. There are whispered conversations, horrible twists of fate, random acts of grace, poisons, scar tissue, and lost time. There are extended times apart and moments when the phone rings in the middle of the night and you fear it's "the call." Periods of time spent praying that he will come back, and wondering if it will ever be the same if he does.

TMOTH survived his transplant and as of his check-up last week is still free of any detectable cancer. As important as they are, I hate check-up weeks - the waiting and imagining of the worst are miserable ways to pass the time. It brings the war back, and the fear he may have to go through it all again.

And so I sympathize with the women who wrote pleading letters to Roosevelt in 1943, begging that their husbands not be drafted into the war. I've made my own similar plea to higher powers.

This Memorial Day I quietly thanked all those who have and will continue to serve this country (along with their families), and I said a little prayer for those fighting their own, more intimate battles.

I am so grateful and proud of the soldiers of my country, and the soldier of my house.

--Rational Mama


  1. Thank you for sharing your family's battle. We lost a family member last week to the aggressive lymphoma and it *is* a war, one that can turn quickly. I am glad to hear that he got the free and clear at his last appointment!

  2. Sorry to hear about your loss, Carla. And thanks for always putting in your thoughtful 2 cents on the blog!

  3. My husbands mother is still alive, but on her last visit we had to realize that she has lost her battle with Alzheimer Disease. As the boy of the family, my husband spent his childhood protecting his mother through extreme domestic violence but still has not been able to keep her safe from this disease. So often we forget the emotional wars which rip our guts out as well.

    I'll pray for your family and your children to weather this storm. Good for your husband (and you too) for staying so strong in the face of brutal adversity!

  4. Michelle-
    Ever since I knew of this story three years ago, you have inspired me. I know you do what you have to do, just like military families do, but your strength still amazes me. You are always so kind and witty, and I can't help but wonder if I could do the same had I gone through what you did/do. I admire your willingness to be open about it. I know it can't be an easy thing to do-- I almost didn't make it through your post without crying! Blessings, and I'm thrilled about the good news :)

  5. This is the story of a blessing, and this story IS a blessing. Thanks.

  6. Thanks to all for your kind words and for the sharing of your own battles. May we all have the strength to continue the fight.