Finding Father

One Man's Journey to Discover Paternal Significance

Month: March 2016

A Beautiful Dissonance

Those of you who know music are familiar with the suspended chord. As a song nears its end, it almost always follows a chord progression that takes the song to the II minor chord, then to the V7 chord, before landing on its home base of the I major chord. Sometimes to add some spice, the songwriter will add what is called a “suspended” chord just before the song ends on the I major chord. This is accomplished by playing the fourth note of the chord against the fifth note, creating a beautiful dissonant sound. The chord “resolves” into the normal, regular I chord – the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale that form the melodic harmony that we all are accustomed to hearing.

A perfect example of this technique that you may be familiar with is the “Amen” that is often sung at the closing of a hymn. Most times, the “Ahh” part of the song is that dissonant suspended chord, with the “men” part resolving into the more typical sounding I chord.

This “dissonance” is what I felt when I came to the end of my investigation surrounding my father’s death. I was so sure I would find the last piece of my puzzle when I found the last person who spoke with my father before he disappeared. As it turns out, the new information that he gave me concerning the conversation my dad had with four German civilians just a week before his disappearance was a “curve ball” I did not expect. The revelation presented me with even more questions, for which there were no answers. On the heels of last week’s post, someone wondered why Mr. Duncan did not divulge that information in his sworn affidavit. I was so stunned by the disclosure of that new information, that I really didn’t think to ask him that during our phone conversation. However, I remember what a good friend who served in the Army in Germany during the 70’s once told me. It was his opinion that the Army’s standard operating procedure was to keep everything “in house” and not get involved in the civil arena. Even when they found my dad’s body in the city limits of Dachau, they got the medical examiner to determine that his death probably occurred on the base so they could keep all investigations within the jurisdiction of the Army and not the city of Dachau. It was possible that Mr. Duncan told them about the civilians, and they purposely omitted it from the official reports for that reason. Rather than call him back and ask for clarification, I have chosen to end my investigation and live with the dissonance.

In her book, “Gone With The Wind,” Margaret Mitchell wrote, “It is better to know the worst than to wonder.” I will have to admit that, although difficult and painful, the quest to uncover what nuggets of truth I did find about my father was one of the best things I have ever done. It is true that sometimes truth hurts, but it is even more true that the truth will definitely set you free.  In music,  the dissonant, suspended chord eventually resolves into that beautiful, melodic major chord. And even though the lack of unanswered questions left me with dissonance, God has transformed the dissonance into a beautiful resolve, the details, of which I look forward to sharing with you in coming posts.

For now, I will share two verses of scripture that pretty much sum up the redemptive resolve I came to embrace through all this searching and seeking to find answers about my father.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

We will be terribly misguided if we believe that our lives will be a bed of roses and devoid of heartache. Jesus Himself, told us that “in this world, you will have trouble.” But he also said, “take heart, I have overcome the world.” This life that is full of blessing will also have its share of sorrow to endure. But God, in His infinite sovereignty, is able to turn tragedy into triumph and bring an ultimate good out of the most dire of circumstances. As I look back over my life, one thing is clear….God’s blessings are undeniably and plainly clear. As traumatic as losing a father is to a family, God gave my mother tremendous grace to carry the load of raising two boys and supplied everything that we needed throughout our lives together. He has surrounded me with the best gifts anyone could ever have – the best wife in the world, two boys that are my treasures, and a new daughter-in-law that is equally as precious. God has most definitely brought an ultimate good out of our situation and has made this “dissonance” beautiful in His time.

The second verse comes later on in that same Romans chapter when Paul said, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life… neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I vividly remember the night I first read through the dossier and the range of emotions – everything from sadness to anger – that I felt in the aftermath. However, in the middle of that emotion, a very calm stillness came over me and I felt that peace that passes all understanding and escapes all explanation. The reality of the truth of this verse fully held me in its grip – that God loved me…that he had always loved me and would always love me. He also affirmed to me that my existence here was no accident…my place in His grand scheme of things was no afterthought. And while the presence of my earthly father was, for the most part, nonexistent throughout most of my life, there was no doubt in my mind that I did, indeed, have a Heavenly Father who had kept me in the grasp of his caring embrace and would continue to do so.

This was my renewal….this was my redemption….this was dissonance turning into a beautiful resolve.

…And Then There Was One.

In the March, 2015 post entitled, “Breakthroughs and Connections,” I related the story of how I searched and found contact information for the four men who gave sworn statements concerning my father’s disappearance and death. In my investigations, I discovered that two of the soldiers had passed away, and that two were still alive. After sending letters to the two men who were still living, George Whyel and Charles Duncan, I received a phone call from George Whyel from Ohio, and had two lengthy conversations with him that really gave me no new information.

While not totally satisfied with the information I received from him, I was still elated that I was able to make a connection, especially with the amount of time that had passed since my dad’s death. I had sent the letters to both Gerald Whyel and Charles Duncan on the same day, and even though Gerald responded within a week, the letter I had sent to Charles Duncan never received reply. My mind entertained all sorts of reasons as to why I never heard from him. Maybe he was not the right Charles Duncan…or maybe he was the right one, and for whatever reason, was just too reluctant to reply.

In the early part of March 2015,  I decided I would take a daring step and call the number I had for him. After a few rings, a man answered and I asked if I could speak with Charles Duncan. He said, “This is he.”

I said, “My name is Ken Sausedo from Asheville, NC. I’m taking a total stab in the dark here, but are you the Charles Duncan that served in Dachau, Germany in 1965?”

“Yes, that’s me,” he said. It was obvious that he recognized my name, because he quickly replied, “I got your letter, and I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back with you. It’s just that I really didn’t think I had any information that could help you.”

I couldn’t believe that I had actually found the one person that, in all likelihood, was the last soldier on the base to see my dad before he disappeared. It was totally surreal. I told him that I had been investigating the circumstances surrounding my father’s disappearance for quite some time, and I related to him all the facts and information that I knew thus far. That seemed to open the door for him to elaborate on those things, and what he began to share would totally change the landscape of what I believed happened to my dad.

He said that there was something strange about the entire situation. He told me that my dad, having been at the base for only a short amount of time, had become acquainted with four German civilians, all in their 20’s, who lived in an apartment not far from the army base. Charles said that early one morning, my dad told him he was going into Dachau, and asked that Charles accompany him. He said they ended up at the apartment of the four German civilians, and that my dad engaged in conversation with them in an adjoining room. Charles said, although he could hear their voices, he wasn’t that cognizant of what my dad and the four German men talked about. He also added that he really wasn’t sure why my dad wanted Charles to go with him in the first place. When I asked him if he could speculate as to the topic of their conversation, Charles was very vague with his reply and said that “there was just something strange about the whole situation.”

The men lived in an apartment in the local town, which Charles said, was about a 30 minute walk from the Dachau army base. When I mentioned that my dad was found in the shallow stream of water that flowed through the Dachau base, he recalled that they had crossed a stream of water to get to the men’s apartment that morning. It was about a week after that visit to the apartment, Charles said, that my dad turned up missing. He also said that he couldn’t help but think that the two events were somehow connected. He  kept saying that there was just something strange about the whole thing and that “there is probably more to it” than what seemed to be.

I was stunned. I had not heard anything, nor read anything in the dossier, like that before. There was no mention of four German civilians, nor anything that would give hint that anyone outside the base might have been involved.  Even in his sworn deposition, Charles made no mention of the four men, or the encounter he and my dad had with them that morning they were all together.

In our phone conversation, Charles didn’t attempt to speculate as to what business my dad had with the men,  or what might have been the nature of their conversation. But I could feel the emotion in his voice that he had strong feelings of discomfort from whatever transacted between them.

For a moment, I considered that Charles, being one of the last ones to see my dad that Friday evening, was contriving a story to possibly cover himself. However his voice seemed sincere, and his story came across plausible and credible. For some reason, it resonated and had a strong semblance of truth to it.  Without being in the same room with Charles and seeing him face to face, I really had no reason to question his honesty.

If there was one thing I picked up from his vocal demeanor, it was that he seemed to be withholding some of the details surrounding that encounter he and my dad had that morning with the four German civilians.  Maybe it was for my benefit and my protection…maybe he feared that I would find some of those details too disturbing.  He may have been right.  For the first time in this process, I had come to a place where I felt I couldn’t ” turn over any more rocks” for fear of what I might find underneath.

In ways I was relieved because I came to the conclusion that, although Charles was the last one to see my dad in the Enlisted Men’s club that evening, he had nothing to do with my father’s disappearance or demise.   After 20 years of holding to a theory that my dad had accidentally drowned, I had come to the conclusion that all of the circumstantial evidence pointed that someone did, indeed, rob and murder my father, or at least, had injured him and left him for dead.  I told Charles that some on my dad’s side of the family have always believed that theory.

“That’s a good possibility,” Charles said. It was common knowledge to everyone that my dad was scheduled to leave for the states, and because of that, one could assume he had money in his pocket. In addition, the laceration on my father’s head, as well as the disappearance of the billfold with the money and the traveler’s checks made this an even more plausible theory.

I thanked Charles for being gracious enough to answer my phone call and for being courageous enough to entertain a voice from his past. As did George Whyel, Charles expressed his sorrow and his empathy for my plight, and shared with me that he, too, had grown up without a father and could relate to my situation.  It was some consolation, but in the end, the new revelations left me somewhat stunned and empty.

I hung up the phone and, as best as I could, soaked it all in. I was overwhelmed…partly because I had come to embrace what I felt was the truth of my father’s demise.  However, I was also grateful that I had actually talked to the man who had the last known conversation with my father….and that he seemed genuinely sorry for the way things had turned out.

My search had finally come to an end and I now felt I had as much information as I could possibly find, and enough to satisfy my personal quest.

At Long Last

Taking a break from the writing of this blog seems to have been a commonplace ever since I began writing back in July of 2013. The story should not have taken that long to tell, however, I have found with the schedule I have and the unexpected events that have come along, it has taken a while for me to get all of this down on paper.

2015 was a most eventful year for us, both professionally and personally. We spent the first part of the year making preparations to start a new preschool at our church. For the last eight years, my wife, Jeannie, has been the Director of a local church preschool here in Asheville. When the sponsoring church decided to sell their building, they began looking for another church who would be willing to incorporate the preschool. After meeting with them and conferring with our church body, we made the bold move to relocate the staff and existing enrollment of children to Grassy Branch.

preschool picIt was a huge endeavor, but after much blood, sweat, and tears on the part of many at our church, Grassy Branch Preschool opened its doors in the summer of 2015. Everything has gotten off to a great start, and it is such a blessing and joy to see our place come alive with all of those wonderful children coming through our doors.

On Mother’s Day of 2015, my 95 year old mother experienced her first heart attack, and since then she has made several return visits to the hospital because of erratic blood pressure, low sodium levels, installation of a pacemaker, and most recently, treatment for bronchitis. At her age, any of these events could have led to her entrance into the pearly gates, but her spiritual and mental attitude are as strong as a tank and her resilience is like a Timex watch….she takes a “licking” but keeps on ticking. We know that she has defied the odds, and God has blessed her with a long and fulfilled life. By no means are we ready to let her go yet, but she has had “the talk” with all of us, and she knows she is totally willing to stay but ready to go should her time come.

mom at christmasFor someone who has never had any major illnesses or had ever been to the hospital, my mom’s health situation this past year has served as our family’s “wake up” call. She had me late in life, was almost 60 when I graduated high school and was in her 70’s when her grandchildren were very young. I remember asking God to let her live long enough to see her grandkids grow up, and now all of her grandsons are in their mid-to-late 20’s. We know that the time we have with her is precious, and we are trying to make the most of every opportunity that we have to spend with her. As of this writing, she seems to have made it through the storm and is doing very well. Thanks to all of your for your thoughts and prayers for my mom.

I also spent the last part of the year preparing for and running my first marathon. Ever since I started running in the summer of 2010, I have run several 5K’s and even a few half marathons. The more I ran, the more the desire to try a marathon increased. Having just run a half in June, and with my legs feeling pretty good, I felt that I had the perfect opportunity to train and run my first marathon. I registered for the Charlotte Marathon on November 12, and issued a challenge to the members of my church. For every mile that I was able to complete, I asked them to pledge a dollar amount, with the proceeds going to Ebenezer Gospel Mission.

Our church has been supporting Ebenezer since the 1960’s. Founded by Chacko Mani, Ebenezer is a Bible College in Kerala, India, who trains Indian pastors to minister in their home country. Ebenezer trains missionaries to plant Christian churches throughout India, ministers to thousands of children through their “Kid’s Klub” program, and builds fresh water wells as part of their community enrichment program. After issuing the challenge to our church, the response was overwhelming, with over $2300 in pledges on the first day!

marathon picRunning the marathon was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. It truly was a test of endurance, and I am so appreciative to my wife Jeannie, to my son, Jonathan, and my daughter-in-law, Emily, for being there at the finish line to greet me. I also appreciate my good friend, Tim Turner, who met me on miles 21 and 22, and gave me that extra “push” to get me to the finish line!

Now that all of the busyness of 2015 is behind me, I am looking forward to finishing the story I began in the summer of 2013. I ended last spring with a series of posts detailing how I received a dossier of information from the Army pertaining to the disappearance of my father in the winter of 1965. In that dossier were affidavits from four soldiers who last saw my dad on the day he disappeared. I took on my own personal investigation to find the whereabouts of these four men and discovered that two were deceased and two were still alive – one in Ohio and the other right here in North Carolina. I sent letters to the two men asking them to respond to me if they had, indeed, served with my dad in Germany. The very last post relayed the conversation I had with George Whyel, the soldier who lived in Ohio. I ended that post with the sentence: “I would now turn my attention to the last name on my list – Charles Duncan – to see if he might hold any of the answers to my questions.”

I posted that on March 15 of last year, and it was there that I unintentionally left everyone hanging. I am working on some new articles that will complete the cliffhanger and lead on to some of the beautiful things that came out of that whole investigation.

I want to thank all of you who have been loyal readers of this blog. I have truly been humbled by your encouraging comments and the stories of your journeys with your own fathers. Each one has given me inspiration, and has only served to confirm my initial desire to even write this blog – to let you know that you are not alone, and that there is a Heavenly Father who has been there and will always be there for us on this exciting journey of life.

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