My father, Don Patrick Desonier, born March 12, 1918 in Toronto, Canada is my Veterans Day hero. He was still living in Toronto when World War II broke out in the late 1930’s. A young man of approximately 21 years of age, my dad voluntarily signed up for the Canadian Army and served in the artillery division as a Second Lieutenant or – because the Canadian Army spoke both English and French – Sous-lieutenant.
My father was bi-lingual because his father was French Canadian – a descendant of French settlers in Canada. The correct spelling of our last name was Desaulniers, but when my parents and us three kids settled in the United States, my parents grew weary of the mispronunciation – and misspelling – of our surname, so in the 1950’s, mom and dad had our surname legally changed to its current spelling.
When my father died on October 13, 2007, many of his effects were distributed to my brother and sister, and me. I have some amazing black and white photos from WWII as well as a couple German handguns – both of which are locked in a wall-safe in our house. A couple years before my father died from complications of Alzheimer’s, he and I had a brief, but eye-opening discussion about his war service.
My father fought in France, Germany, and England and saw it all – I know this because I asked him. Our conversation went something like this:
“Dad, I have to assume that because you were in the artillery and served in several WWII hotspots, you were called upon to kill those who were designated as the enemy – right?”
“Yes, Irene. No one wants to take someone’s life, but when it’s a question of the enemy taking a bullet or you and your buddies, you choose the former.”
“So dad, you saw your buddies get severely injured and even killed – didn’t you?”
“Yes – that’s the way it is on the battlefield.”
I looked at my father, tears in my eyes, and for the first time in my life, I said, “Thank you for your service, dad. I appreciate all that you did to defend what was right during World War II.”
His response – and I paraphrase: “It’s just something you do, Irene, because it needs to be done. No one likes war, but thus far no war has ever ended on its own. Unfortunately wars don’t just peter out.”
Those of us Baby Boomers who have parents that fought in the earlier wars may not have considered what they endured before they started a family and got on with the rest of their lives. I hadn’t, but I’m grateful that in my late 40’s, I asked dad about his military service, and I thanked him for it.