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Monday, November 11, 2013

Tracing My Father’s WWII Experience

Raymond Allen Ashlock

Raymond Allen Ashlock

There were 16 million Americans in uniform during World War II. One of them was my father, Raymond Allen Ashlock. I’ve been trying to trace his military experience. And it’s a paper chase. I have the bits and pieces collected in a sort of haphazard scrapbook spread out on the desk before me.

There’s what looks like a draft notice from 1942. There’s a program from his graduation ceremony from Officers Candidate School at Fort Sill Oklahoma in August, 1943, (records show nine of his classmates were killed during the war). And there are telegrams my dad sent to my mom when he was stationed near Grenada, Mississippi in April 1944 – ARRIVING SATURDAY 730 AM FROM MEMPHIS 12 DAY LEAVE MEET ME.

A telegram dated April 6, 1944, from Raymond Allen Ashlock to his wife.

A telegram dated April 6, 1944, from Raymond Allen Ashlock to his wife.

There’s also a photo of dad and another soldier in Germany in 1945. And another tiny photo, black and white. My dad is standing in front of a jeep. Written on the back – VE Day Czechoslovakia. He’s taken his helmet off.

Raymond Allen Ashlock stands in front of a Jeep in Czechoslovakia.

Raymond Allen Ashlock stands in front of a Jeep in Czechoslovakia.

I’m not sure when my dad got home from Europe, but he and my mom were like millions of other Americans during this period of American history. The war took years from their lives.

The great historian Rick Atkinson calls World War II “the greatest catastrophe in human history.”

I wonder what the historians will say about Iraq and Afghanistan? More than two million Americans have been sent to fight in those two wars. Nearly 7,000 of them are not coming home.

Others are still being deployed. I know a family that just welcomed home their dad and husband after his fourth deployment.

But what happen when they come home? I know other families whose military loved ones have killed themselves after becoming civilians again. The estimate right now is that 22 vets commit suicide every day.

According to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), today’s returning veterans are also facing a number of economic challenges. More than 420,000 are stuck in the VA disability claims backlog, with thousands more waiting on appeals. The unemployment rate for vets who have served since 9/11 is three points higher than the national average — 10 percent. And there’s the threat of another government shutdown next year.

Alex Ashlock isn't sure of the meaning of this patch, which belonged to his father. Some say it's for the 2nd Armored Division, but he's not sure.

Alex Ashlock isn’t sure of the meaning of this patch, which belonged to his father. Some say it’s for the 2nd Armored Division, but he’s not sure.

Paul Rieckhoff served in Iraq. He’s the founder and CEO of IAVA and he’s worried about that.

“Our country is at a particularly divided time, as we saw with the most recent government shutdown,” he said in a statement. “As we recognize the last Veterans Day before the end of the war in Afghanistan, as a nation we must recommit to supporting the veterans’ community and those returning home after 12 years of war. We have a message to all Americans: Don’t just thank us, join us!”

During World War II, everyone had skin in the game. Less than 1 percent of the country’s population has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should be looking at their scrapbooks too.

Alex Ashlock is a producer for Here & Now and director of the show. He tweets @aashlock.


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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