Family Remembers the Life of Their Own War Hero
JACKI LYDEN, host:
It's Veteran's Day weekend, a time to honor those who returned from wars past and present, a time to remember those who didn't make it home. For some, though, the memories are too painful no matter how much time has passed.
Producer Rachel Guberman recently went to a family reunion and tried to find out why she knew so little about her family's own war hero.
RACHEL GUBERMAN: Every family has something they don't talk about. In my family it's my grandmother's brother, David.
Unidentified Man #1: I knew he was in the Army.
Unidentified Woman #1: But I never heard stories about him.
Unidentified Woman #2: We knew there was a brother somehow. And we knew that David was named after him.
Unidentified Man #1: No one ever talked about David.
GUBERMAN: You shouldn't say David, it's Davi.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man #2: She won't speak about it.
Unidentified Woman #2: One couldn't ask. I mean it's clearly too painful to ask, you know, some of those areas where you don't tiptoe in.
GUBERMAN: It's unusual for my family even to be talking about David, and he's only come up now because I forced the issue with my microphone.
MILLY(ph) (Grandmother): My brother was tall and slim and sort of gray-blue eyes. He was very good looking, and the girls were very aware of that.
GUBERMAN: My grandmother Milly was David's older sister. This is the one story we've all been told.
MILLY: During World War II, my brother enlisted in the Army and was accepted into the Air Corps and became a navigator.
GUBERMAN: David, my great uncle, successfully completed all his missions over Germany. But just before he would have been sent home, he volunteered for one extra flight.
MILLY: And that was the flight where he was hit by flack.
Unidentified Woman #2: The plane returned.
Unidentified Woman #3: No. The plane returned and the pilot was alive.
Unidentified Woman #2: And then the pilot was alive but it...
Unidentified Man #3: It was flack or shrapnel that cut through the plane.
Unidentified Woman #2: ...that it cut through the plane and it hit him.
Unidentified Woman #3: ...underneath.
Unidentified Woman #2: Right. Exactly. It hit underneath. And it hit him and it killed him.
GUBERMAN: David died eight days before his 21st birthday. Auntie Nomi, the youngest in the family, was home early and got the telegram.
NOMI (Aunt): And I saw the news - read the news that he had been killed. And I remember sitting on the stairs leading up to our part of the house, waiting for someone to come home. And Millie was the first one to come home. Then the both of us waited until our parents came home. And that was one of the worst - I think the worst day in my life.
GUBERMAN: So that's it. My great uncle David was a beautiful young man, a beloved brother, a war hero and he was killed. His sisters, my grandmother and Auntie Nomi have kept mostly silent about him. And we, their children and grandchildren, have learned not to bring him up.
Mr. DAVID GUBERMAN (Father): I think because no one ever talked about David. I've almost by osmosis or just somehow silently without even saying, I understood it was not a subject that one could talk about.
GUBERMAN: That's my father. He's named David, after the Uncle David who died.
Mr. GUBERMAN: The only thing that I really remember was my father saying to me during the Vietnam War and when there was a chance that I might be drafted, that my mother's brother had been killed just short of his 21st birthday and that mommy was very much afraid that I would be drafted and go to Vietnam and I would not survive to be 21.
GUBERMAN: My father's generation knows so little about David. He was killed before any of them was born. They never heard that he was a debate champion, that he played trumpet in the high school band, that he was handsome. For years, the only photos of him were hidden in my grandmother and great aunt's dresser drawers.
Unidentified Man #4: My parents had a storage case like the one of those boxes with the two big locks, and inside it there was a flight jacket, a brown leather flight jacket, amazing jacket. If I ever find it, I'll freak out.
GUBERMAN: For 60 years, his sisters barely spoke about the David they grew up with. With the whole family together, today is an exception.
MILLY: I'm 84 now and last January 21st he would have been 82 and I cannot imagine him with gray hair, old. We called him Davi. And he was 19-years-old the last time that I saw him. And in my mind he's always 19.
GUBERMAN: When you don't talk at all about a family member who's gone, their death becomes the most important fact of their life.
(Soundbite of music)
LYDEN: Rachel Guberman is a producer in Washington, D.C.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.