As a child of the 70’s, the only war movies that could be found on television were ones about World War II. That changed, of course, in 1978 with The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. But, those were Rated R. So, as a kid, I watched PG war movies like To Hell and Back – with Audie Murphy. Or Westerns (the other “safe” war movie genre) like Outlaw Josie Wales – with Clint Eastwood. Both stars were heroes of my Dad’s and, by extension, heroes of mine.
Dad was a former first lieutenant in the US Army and “not-so-secretly” hoped his passion for the armed forces would be passed along to me, carrying me to West Point and ultimately to my own career in the Army. He gave me all sorts of cool surplus gear that I used to play “War” with my friends in the back yard. I’d pretend to be a great German General (partly because of my Germanic family heritage, and partly because I was born in Berlin) wreaking havoc on my hapless American foes.
Not surprisingly, I idolized my Dad growing up. He was a gentle giant - friendly, easy-going and fun to be around. Dad was always the one who took me to Sox games, model shops, and the movies. Mom, on the other hand, was cranky almost all of the time. She used coarse language and smoked like a chimney. Mom was always the one who kept me in line, made me do my chores and finish all my homework before going out to play. And would be quick with the backside of her hand if I talked back. In short, Dad was the cruise director and Mom was the crude dictator!
Now, as a grown adult with four kids of my own, it’s my Mom’s lessons (strangely) that are the ones which have endured. It’s her tough love, strong work ethic and personal sacrifice that I’ve tried to emulate as a parent. And when I’m talking with my own children, it’s her words I hear coming out of my mouth - albeit, with slightly less vulgarity. And when they eventually grow up, I hope they love me the way I love my Dad, but respect me the way I respect my Mom - and all she did for my sister and me.
It’s funny the things you grow up believing as a kid which turn out to be un-true. I found out that my last name is actually English, not German – my grandfather was adopted. I found out that Audie Murphy was in reality a violent, ill-tempered man. I found out that Clint Eastwood’s Westerns were actually filmed in Italy. I found that out my Mom loved me a whole lot more than she let on. And, I found out that my Dad cheated on my Mom the entire time she was raising us.
Sometimes the truth’s a bitch. And, as it turns out, so is my real hero.
Luv ya Mom!