Finding Father

One Man's Journey to Discover Paternal Significance

Month: November 2014

Can You Handle The Truth?

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One of the most memorable scenes in movie history is the classic courtroom scene in “A Few Good Men” between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. Cruise, playing Naval Lawyer Dan Kaffee, is grilling key witness, Colonel Nathan Jessup, played by Nicholson. At issue is a potential cover up of a case involving the hazing and eventual death of a soldier under Colonel Jessup’s command. Believing the colonel had some culpability in the heinous act, Lt. Kaffe shouts out to him, “I want the truth!” Nicholson, as Jessup, goes into a monologue, schooling Kaffe on the differences between what is perceived reality and actual reality and begins his oration with the exclamation of that classic line, “You can’t handle the truth!”

We all have had situations that have challenged our beliefs about a particular thing, and have flirted with that fine line between perceived reality and actual reality. We have our “neat and tidy,” somewhat sanitized version of our perspective that can sometimes be rocked by the revelation of just how disturbing the actual truth might be. Sometimes knowing the truth can be daunting and unnerving because it does challenge our comfortable paradigms.

In the case of finding out what exactly happened to my dad in December, 1965, it would have been much easier to have left well enough alone. In our lives there will always be that pile of unanswered questions that will remain unanswered, and my questions would just as well have rested in that stack. I was driven, however, to know the truth, or at least, make a good attempt to find it. In the pursuit to find the truth, my quest had led me to this priceless dossier containing my father’s armed services records.

Headlining the large stack of forms and paperwork were letters and affidavits that outlined the events of my father’s disappearance and subsequent death.  Would they contain the answers I needed?  Would I be able to handle the truth?   With great trepidation, I began to sift through them and attempted to piece together the timeline of those tragic events.

I learned that my father was relatively new on the base in Dachau, having been transferred there in the latter part of November 1965. Prior to the transfer, he had been approved for a Christmas leave to the United States that was scheduled to begin on December 20 and continue through January 19. The week before his scheduled departure, my dad obtained permission from his commanding officer to visit the American Express office to pick up his plane ticket for the flight home, and to purchase $100 of traveler’s checks for the furlough.

Friday December 17 would be the last day that anyone recalled seeing my father. The day began with a trip to the post office to mail a couple of packages home. The receipts for the packages, which were Christmas gifts for my brother and me, were found in his locker after his disappearance. Before he could be granted official leave, he had to return to his commanding officer to show him his plane ticket and receive the final approval for his trip home. The officer would later say that he found my dad to be very upbeat that day and that he was looking forward to his time away.

Later that day, he would approach Sgt. Charles Clements, the sergeant for the maintenance platoon to which my father had been assigned. Sgt. Clements was working on his car, when he said my dad came up to him and asked to borrow some money. He said he gave my dad $25, which was all the money he had. When my dad opened his wallet to put the money, Sgt. Clements observed that my dad had much more money in his wallet than the $25 he had loaned him. That would be the last time he remembered seeing my father alive.

On the evening of December 17, the Dachau Army base held their Quartermaster Christmas Party in the Enlisted Men’s Club. PFC Charles D_____ (I will explain the reason for disguising his name in a later post) came to the party around 7 pm and saw my father sitting at the bar. A couple of hours later, Pvt. D_____ said my dad joined him at his table, and that it appeared that my dad had been drinking heavily that evening and was very intoxicated.   After separating again, D______, intending to walk my dad back to the barracks, searched the Enlisted Men’s Club for my father, but said that he would not see him again.

My dad missed bed check that evening and when the sun rose on Saturday he was still missing from the base. Some of the guys in the barracks thought he might have skipped town so he could get an early start on his scheduled furlough. At that point my father was considered AWOL – absent without leave – and an extensive search was initiated to find out where he had gone.   Calls were made to the airlines and to the states to see if he somehow he was en route to North Carolina, but neither turned up anything. MP’s searched the Dachau area, thinking that in his intoxicated state, he might have, in their words, “shacked up some place,” but this search would prove futile as well. They said it was as if he had vanished into thin air.

Around 1 p.m. on the afternoon of January 25, 1966, Ms. Lotte Kraus, who lived in the Wuermmuehle section of Dachau, saw what looked like a body floating in a stream that flowed through her property. She quickly notified the Chief of Police in Dachau, who determined that the body, dressed in fatigues, was that of a United States Army Soldier, and contacted the MP’s at the Dachau base. Sgt. Charles Clements, the same man who loaned my dad $25 the day he disappeared, responded to the call and positively identified the remains as that of my father.   After leaving the Enlisted Men’s Club on the evening of December 17, and having been missing for almost 40 days, my father had finally been found.

My dad’s body was transferred to the Army hospital in Augsburg, Germany and an autopsy was performed. One day after my father’s remains were retrieved from the Wuerm River in Dachau, the medical examiner concluded that the cause of death was simple drowning and that there was no evidence of foul play or self-inflicted wounds.

On the surface, it appeared that I had found the answers for which I had been looking. However, my discovery of “the truth” would only open up another world of questions and emotions that would take me almost 20 years to fully process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dossier

dossierpic2Several months have passed since I posted about the journey to discover the truth about my father, so I hope the continuity of my story has not been too badly interrupted. In one of the previous posts, “Solving The Puzzle,” I shared the beginning of the efforts to find more details surrounding the suspicious disappearance and subsequent death of my father during the winter of 1965.   Serving in the US Army and stationed in Dachau, Germany at the time, my father was scheduled to come home for Christmas during the last part of December and failed to make it home to the states. After several weeks, he was finally discovered in a stream of water, the victim of what was ruled an accidental drowning.

In three articles I posted this past spring – “The Dream,” “Serendipity at the Cracker Barrel,” and “Solving The Puzzle,” I laid the groundwork for what would be the beginnings of my actual search to find answers to what exactly unfolded during the days of my dad’s disappearance.

I had talked to my mom before about dad, and she always gave me the generalities and highlights about his disappearance and his death. She would never divulge any real details, and I could only speculate that she either didn’t know them or, perhaps did, and for whatever reasons chose not to talk about them. When I became serious about knowing some of the deeper details, I remember broaching the subject with her. I could tell that after the many years that had passed, she really wasn’t that interested in going there, so I chose not to press the issue.

I thought about all the avenues to which I might have access – someone or something that could give me the information I needed to piece all of this together. In that moment, a light went off – I had an epiphany – and the mere thought of it excited me and scared me at the same time. The next move I made in finding those answers to my quest proved to be the boldest and daring to date.

Seeing that my father spent most of his adult life in the armed services, I naturally thought that locating his service records would be the most logical thing to do. Surely the government would have records of his service tucked away somewhere…getting them, however, would be the challenge.

I took a “shot in the dark,” and I decided to write a letter to our local congressman. I gave him as much information about my father as I had, and I asked him to give me all available records pertaining to my dad’s years in the armed services. I compiled the letter, put it in the mail, and then waited to see what response, if any, I would receive.

About six weeks after I had sent my request, a large package from the congressman’s office arrived at my mailbox. My heart began to swell with anxiety and anticipation. What would this package reveal? Would it give me answers? Would it solve the puzzle?

Inside the package was a large stack of papers, about four inches thick, of every record I believe the Army had on my father. I took the stack of papers, laid them out on the kitchen table, and began read them. This dossier included all of my father’s service records, as well as all of his medical records while he was in the Army. From the time he enlisted when he was 18 until the time he died, I read of every time he went to the infirmary for a stomach bug, I knew when he was running a fever and when he was treated for a sinus infection. I saw documentation of when he was inducted in the Army. I read about every time he was up for a promotion in rank. I read about every time he was reprimanded and disciplined for an infraction. It was like I was reading a book on the man’s life, or at least of the time he was serving in the Army.

Most of the dossier was just paperwork – forms that reflected the “standard operating procedure” of day-to-day life in the United States Army. However, the last set of paperwork would prove to be the most compelling. The last set of papers referenced the disappearance of my father. As I came upon this particular part of the dossier, I approached the documents with much trepidation and apprehension. I could feel the butterflies start to well up inside of me, and I felt that this was going to be a pivotal moment in this process.  As I began to read I quickly knew that not only was this a pivotal moment in the process, but this information would totally change my life as I knew it.

 

 

 

 

An Interesting Interim

It has been quite a while since I have written a “Finding Father” post, but that is not to say I haven’t had anything to write. It has been quite an eventful summer and fall, both personally and professionally. Sometimes the carousel spins a little faster than a person can keep up.

As I shared with you a few weeks ago, the event that has been the center of our attention has been Emily and Jonathan’s wedding. Many of you expressed some very kind remarks and well wishes for them, and I want you to know that we all appreciate them so much. It was a wonderful day, one that we will all remember for the rest of our lives.

In terms of continuing this story of “Finding Father,” it became apparent that I had reached a place where I needed to pause. Sequentially speaking, I am at a point in the story where finer details of what actually happened to my father in December, 1965 have to be shared. Some of the information surrounding that event has been very challenging for me to process, even though I have had many years to do so. Revisiting that period of time for the writing of this blog has proved to me more emotional than I thought it would be, and it was important that I make sure I had my emotional and mental bearings right before I proceeded.

Also, I realized that there were some “stones left unturned,” in regard to some of the significant individuals involved. I knew that there was a little more investigation that had to happen before I could sufficiently relay the story. I have spent some time in these last few months doing just that, and I am glad I did, because it greatly affected the story and my personal conclusions concerning what exactly happened.

I look forward in these coming weeks to communicate those events to you – as difficult as the task may be – so that you will have a full and further understanding of my motives for even going on this journey. If it were not important for me, and important for those of you who are sojourners on a similar path, I would not even dare to do so. Even now as I think about the message that is at the end of this journey, I am overcome with emotion. I personally feel that the deepest desire of the human heart is to know that it is loved…more specifically, to know the love of a father. This morning as I ponder the greatest discovery of my own heart, it is very clear that it is the magnificent love and affirmation of the Heavenly Father that has changed my life forever. And I know that the greatest desire of my heart is to reach out to those whose hearts may be hurt and scarred, and to let you know that there is healing…that there is hope…and that there is One who knows that and loves you more than you could ever imagine.

Since it has been some time between posts, I would encourage you to take the time to go back in the archives and refresh your memories on previous events and posts. So when the time comes for the story to continue, the connection that you need will be there. I first began telling this story in July, 2013, so you won’t have too much material to consume.

I would also personally covet your thoughts and prayers. There is a story to be told, however, the tyranny of the urgent can sometimes usurp the process. Pray for not only the right words, but for sufficient time to properly convey them.

Several of you have written during this interim, asking when a new post would appear. I appreciate that interest, and I look forward to sharing my journey with you in these coming months.

 

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