leland j bryant · darkroomdemon.com
I photograph to celebrate life. For me, it is a form of worship.
CALVARY - Father's Day 2018
For the first time in my memory, sixty years, I wanted to wish my Dad a Happy Father's Day. He and my Mom are buried together in Arlington National Cemetery up on a little hill under an oak tree. It's quiet and peaceful.
Yeah, he's war hero.
Fighting with the 8th Armored Cavalry in Germany, a bullet ripped off the back of his skull while pulling some buddies from a burning tank. Unable to move his legs, he lay in his own blood and listening to the rest of them burn to death. How many men had he killed? How many did he hold as they passed from this place? I did not know these things until a few years ago.
Yeah, war sucks.
He drank, he cursed and raged, he cried out in the middle of the night waving a loaded .45 caliber automatic at demons only he could see, monsters that he would always see. I remember very little of my childhood, only fear, tears and a constant pain in my belly.
I hated that man for the misery he caused my Mom and me and often wished him dead. On July 29, 1962 when I was twelve, he died. I felt relief and a great guilt, one that I would know for decades. Isn't it some kind of mortal sin to wish your father dead and have it happen? The VA doctors called it a heart attack. They did not mention the shrapnel floating around in his brain. His best and only friend, Al, who was with him when he passed, said that he "just quit his life." PTSD, witnessing the unspeakable, had locked him into his own private hell where he languished as an in-valid person untreated by the country he served until he expired. I did not know these things, either. He was thirty-six years old.
I continued to hate my father for another forty-three years. His grandchildren grew up with a tainted image of a grandfather whom they could never know but through me and my pain and guilt.
The effects of this type of trauma are generational. His hell became ours. I drank and raged. My oldest son drank and raged and our loved ones suffered from the crime of neglect from a thankless nation.
In 2004, inspired by the work of the photographer, Jo Spence, I began to deconstruct the image of my father created and held close to my childhood pain. I looked at his photographs, listened to his voice in his recorded music and heard stories from adults who knew him. I was able to reconstruct in my heart the image of a man who did his best, did his duty, a man who at twenty-two years old was damaged beyond his country's desire to repair.
His pain became mine. As a grown man, I could step into it, wrap it about me and know who he must have been and feel his presence. He was no longer the monster created from horrific fear in a young child's mind. I could at last forgive him and forgive myself for years of hatred.
This year on Fathers' Day with the white stones marching away down into the little valley below, I was able to sit peacefully with my Mom and Dad for the first time in my memory. Gazing at his stone as if for the first time, the word Calvary chiseled into his headstone swam into clarity before my eyes. Was it a slip carried over 46 years to tell me something on this moment? How could I have not seen it before?
Calvary, Golgotha, the place of the supreme Christian sacrifice, Christ dead on his cross at 33 years.
Calvary, Arlington National Cemetery, the ultimate sacrifice, my Dad dead in his grave at 36 years.
I mourn his lost youth and my lost childhood, but some of the ghosts cleared from my heart that day.
Happy Father's Day, Pop. I love you.
Yeah. Freedom is not free.
It comes at a terrible cost. Do not waste it on Just Any Fool's War.