Al in a cemetery in Scotland

Bonus Time

11 10 4485

11 10 4485 ("eleven ten four four eight five") was my father's service number. I've known that number my whole life: 11 10 4485. Not sure why I should know it, except that Dad would recite it to me when I was young. Nowadays, service members just use their social security number, but in 1943 you were given a service number; 11 10 4485.

When I qualified as a Surface Warfare Officer the Officer Designator number was 1110 ("eleven ten"). In my mind I always added the 4485. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. I married a woman with the same designator 1110 (you can add the 4485).

When we were going to apply for VA medical benefits Mom showed me dad's discharge papers. There it was; the number. Actually it was 11 104 485 and it took a second for recognition to set in.

Dad was proud of his service, but never boastful. He never played soldier. He might march in a veterans' day parade, but he never joined the VFW or other groups that made a big deal about their service. There seems almost an inverse relationship to service and stories. Those who spent their service at the point of the spear are least likely to boast of their accomplishments. They know most directly that, while they had it tough, others had it tougher. Only much later in life did he get involved with the 10th Mountain Division Association, and it rather surprised my sister and me.

Today we will visit a place where there are many who have given their life for their country. In just this past month, 78 men and women from coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have made the supreme sacrifice. We should note, however, that while dying for your country takes dedication and courage, and while we honor the sacrifice of these men and we express our condolences to their families, it does not take hard work to do this. What takes hard work is living for your country. My dad in fact, gave his life to his country, a life of hard work and dedication to enlightening the next generation and creating a world where tyranny cannot flourish.

Bonus Time

In Parachuting: United We Fall, skydiving guru Pat Works says that safety is survival. He says that whenever somebody slips past a "real close one" (malfunction, low pull, etc.) a new calendar is started and ALL the days survived thereafter can be termed bonus days. I call it — Bonus Time.

I recall my father telling me that when he was a boy he had Scarlett Fever. Nana was worried that he might not make it. But he did — Bonus Time.

The 85th Mountain Infantry (my father's regiment, one of three in the 10th Mountain Division) sailed from Hampton Roads Virginia on 4 January 1945 headed for Italy. Including replacements (who joined the regiment in theater), a total of 3,563 men fought with the 85th. The total number of casualties in this regiment was 1,528. Of these 1183 were wounded, and 333 were killed in action or died of wounds. That's 43% casualties and almost 10% fatalities. Many of the dead were my father's friends. I often think of the different world these men lived in. Dan Ojay's uncle Johnny Koski was one of those killed in action. Johnny lived in the era of the great depression, the big band, bear hunting, and tyranny in Europe. My dad lived in the atomic age. He lived in a world where the Berlin Wall rose and then fell and even the Red Chinese adopted a market economy. In Johnny's world airplanes were driven by propellers. In my father's world you could fly around the world in a jet airliner and shake hands with a man who would go to the moon — Bonus Time.

Dad taught 3rd grade. I can't image it. He told me that third graders were the most creative. My dad always said some funny words when he was angry (replacement words for a hard swearing soldier). Perhaps Dad's greatest legacy is that there is a young boy in Florida named Chris who is still asking for his friend Al to come out and play, and can't understand why he won't come, 'cause he promised he would. And another thing, Dad never seemed to sweat the small stuff. I have come to the conclusion that most of this is a result of living his life when he might just as well have died in Europe — Bonus Time.

On President's day "Uncle Al the Kiddies Pal" had a hemorrhagic stroke, the result of a blood vessel rupturing in the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by a congenital defect. This means the dad carried the susceptible site in his head his whole live, and that he lived his whole life on Bonus time.

The four months after his stroke were our bonus time; four extra months to show how much we loved him. Mom was there every day. Uncle Fred came by most days to help dad exercise. Harry visited as did many others. Dad, on the other hand, took it all is stride, speaking often but mostly not so that we could understand (except, or course, when it was to swear at nurses).

One day I had a chance to take dad for a stroll in his wheelchair outside in the sun. Someone asked him what he wanted, and clear as day he said that what he wanted was to go home. We were still working on that when the LORD granted his wish.

© P. A. Wiedorn 2010