Publication Year: 2004
In December 1944 First Lieutenant Ewing R. "Pete" McClelland was captured in the Battle of the Bulge. Soon afterwards in an Allied air attack on the German POW camp where he was held, he was killed.
Back home in Pennsylvania, his young widow and three small children survived him. Too young to have lasting recollections, Ben W. McClelland, the soldier's son who was just beyond infancy, became one of the war's fatherless innocents for whom the memories of others would form the paternal image.
As the boy evolved into manhood, he reflected on how strange it was to grow up without this parent. In this narrative, a work of analysis as well as an odyssey into family heritage, the son undertakes a compelling search to find this man he could not remember. Through sentiment and nostalgia he depicts the innocence of childhood and recalls the many people who furnished impressions of his father.
Old photographs, intimate letters, and interviews with the memory keepers and the storytellers in his extended family were resources from which the author recreated a time and a place and a person. This reconstruction resurrects a father vital in life and passion, a man chronicled in humorous family tales, realized among vivid small-town characters, and seen against the contrast of social changes of the1960s.
The search for his father consumed most of a lifetime. As Ben W. McClelland was approaching the age of sixty, he had recovered this lost, never-before-realized identity. But to complete the circle of his quest, he undertook one thing more, the emotional pilgrimage to his father's grave in Europe.
Although many other memoirs detail the experience of the soldier on the fronts of battle, this one brings an understanding of his sacrifice in wartime, of the resounding meaning of his death for his country and for his family, and of a son's profound yearning for answers that fulfill.
Ben W. McClelland is a professor of English and holder of the Schillig Chair of English Composition at the University of Mississippi.
Published by: University Press of Mississippi
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This project has resulted from the collaborative efforts of many people. My brother, Pete McClelland, and my sister, Mary Jane McClelland Dooley, have been sources of primary documents, as well as aids to my memory. ...
1. Killed in Action
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On Christmas Eve of 1944, Mom received a telegram reporting tersely that Dad had been missing in action since the seventeenth, the second day of the Battle of the Bulge. Try though she might, she could get no further information from the government about his fate. ...
2. "Dad, It's Benny"
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More than fifty-five years after Mom received that second telegram, here I stand. Across acres of grass, white marble crosses fan out in curved rows, looking from above like so many gull wings arcing silently over the sea. In the center of these 8,302 crosses stands one. ...
3. Where I(t) Started
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Located about seventy miles south of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River, this southwestern Pennsylvania town has a long history. Area mounds reveal the presence of ancient inhabitants who antedated by thousands of years the native tribes that were established when the first Europeans arrived in the area. ...
4. The Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony
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We watched the Memorial Day parade from our screened-in, second-story porch, shouting and waving to neighbors lining the street and to friends marching in the parade. The region's high school bands, Scout troops, and men in uniforms marched, carrying banners. ...
5. The War Honor Roll
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Surely we had walked past the War Honor Roll before, my twin sister and I, but I hadn't paid attention to it. Set on the southwest corner of our schoolyard, facing the intersection of Washington and Church streets, the monument was erected out of the same yellow brick as our school building. ...
6. Talking like Crocky
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At the end of my fourth-grade year, Mom gave up teaching to take a new job as postmaster. The evening she came home from her first day at work, I was waiting atop the twenty-second step, the head of the stairs. From the window in her bedroom I had watched Mom park her dark blue 1950 Plymouth, a four-door sedan. ...
7. Family Heritage Personified
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Mom helped us kids shape our early perceptions of our relatives. For instance, she considered Aunt Sally an ancestor worshipper. Aunt Sally was fond of telling about her family line that led back to John Minor, who established Greene County—where Aunt Sally lived all of her life ...
8. "Get Some Black-Seeded Simpson for Us to Sow, Benny"
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Those who engage in joyous love often must endure its shocking loss. The ones affected most powerfully by both experiences are the innocent, generous souls, those of tender heart and deep passion. In our family my dad's mother was such a figure. ...
9. A Cabin of Family Stories
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We stopped going to the cabin at the lake nearly fifty years ago. And it's been about forty years since I last saw it. Well, glimpsed it. It looked small—puny, really— viewed from the four-seater when my brother made a flyover on our way to visit Cousin Tommy Dick. ...
10. The One Who Called Me Bolo
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I remember Uncle Tom as the quintessential performer, not just at the cabin, but in public. Once when I was a youngster of five or six, I went to see Uncle Tom and his fellow Rotarians put on a minstrel show for charity at the Liberty Theater uptown. Before the show, someone took me down into the dressing room under the stage. ...
11. "Let's Go to the Circus!"
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When the circus came to town, it set up in the lot next to the fire hall, about two blocks away on Washington Street. In those days, although it served as a parking lot for Friday-night bingo games, it was not so much a lot as just a dusty field with scruffy tufts of grass sticking up between the stones. ...
12. A Moment's Riches
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One Saturday morning a hard shaft of late April sun pierced through the TV glare in the living room at 201, luring us out onto the second-floor porch. The gray floorboards, the outdoor furniture, and the aluminum screens lay under a heavy winter sifting of black dust from the passing coal trucks. ...
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We kids loved to hear stories about Mom's childhood, so we always encouraged her to tell us some, like the first time she saw one of the old town characters. Once when she was a little girl going for a walk uptown with Pop, she spotted Ephraim Walters III, whose family's story was tied in with the region's pioneer history, ...
14. "Masontown Officer Killed in Germany"
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In Pop's drawer I found a yellowed newspaper clipping. The five-inch-high picture showed my dad in his formal dress uniform. The headline read, "Masontown Officer Killed in Germany." I leaned on the freshly made bed and started to read the article out loud. ...
15. First Love
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I found myself in the middle of a difficult adolescence. Is there any other kind? Like all teenagers, I assume, I felt so different from the adults in my family. Having been a teacher's pet and having identified with adult authority, this sense of estrangement was new and uncomfortable. ...
16. "Speak the Speech, I Pray Thee, Trippingly on Thy Tongue"
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Just before my senior year, 1960-1961, my hometown high school merged with several smaller ones and the one in Pt. Marion, a nearby rival town, to form a new school. The new building was located between the two towns at Friendship Hill on land donated by Albert Gallatin's estate. ...
17. If You Value Freedom, Seek Justice
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It reads like any carefully composed, respectful letter of sympathy. But it was an unusual letter, written by a reticent young man who never mailed it to the surviving widow. Following Uncle Ben's death, his former law partner, John Remington, wrote a letter of sympathy to Aunt Frankie. ...
18. Grandma Wright
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"Grandma said not to. She didn't want you to worry. Listen, Ben, when we first admitted her, it was just for a foot infection. They found a needle in her heel; it had broken off below the eye. The doctor said he thought it had been there for a long time and something just irritated it recently." ...
19. Split over the Vietnam War
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In the mid-sixties, when my brother was living in San Francisco, he visited an army recruiter. Pete had a commercial pilot's license and Uncle Sam wanted pilots for the war in Southeast Asia. The recruiter told Pete that with his commercial license, he would probably be assigned to fly twin Beeches at Fort Ord in California ...
20. Another Parade, Another War Memorial
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I replayed the recent family fight in my mind as I walked across campus. The rally began where all of Indiana University's political activities originated, in the fabled Dunn Meadow. Set down from the roadway, the meadow is a large grassy, rectangular commons, bounded by an embankment around two sides, ...
21. Learning More about Mom and Dad
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While the intensity of my need to know more about my dad and his end ebbed and flowed with the vicissitudes of my life, it never totally abated. My first period of real study about the war itself came at about age sixteen, when somehow the burden I felt to be a good son for my dad and my desire to know more about him coalesced. ...
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In piecing together my dad's story, I now make an important journey, as my brother did before me, a pilgrimage to Europe to visit my dad's grave at the American Military Cemetery near Margraten, The Netherlands. ...
23. Reaching a Milestone
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Since returning from Europe, I have been trying to take in all that transpired in that brief visit. Standing before him in his grave made the loss more palpable. Now I can say that I've been there with him. I saw the memorial to him. I acknowledged his sacrifice for me, indeed for all of us for whom he died. ...
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What does recalling the scenes and people of my life mean to me now? As a person out of the Wright-McClelland heritage who is facing an entirely different world from that of my mom and dad, and our forebears, I choose to understand certain things from this history. ...
Publication Year: 2004