Looking back on a distant past

My work and my family are things that intersect every day though I try to keep them at a comfortable distance from each other. My family includes my parents who also live in San Diego and are nearing the end of life. They have a nexus with my work life since I work for an NPR station and they are long-time listeners to public radio. If I’m on the air and they manage to hear it, they call me and tell me so.

Jim Fudge in Southhampton, UK during WWII.

Jim Fudge in Southhampton, UK during WWII.

Last week my father actually became part of my work. I was planning to fill in for a talk show called Midday Edition and we were approaching Memorial Day. In daily journalism it’s one of those days when you’re never quite sure what to talk about. You’re half-staffed because a lot of people have the day off. Government isn’t in business and you’re typically reduced to covering the same old ceremonies you did last year.

But since the day is about the armed forces, and it’s the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, I jokingly suggested I could interview my dad. It turned out not to be a joke. My dad served in the Navy in WWII. He was at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

So the Friday before Memorial Day he walked with his cane into the Midday studio and sat down in front of a microphone to talk with his son about his war years.

His spoke at a halting pace and his stories were littered with stammers and um’s & ah’s. The magic of audio editing cleared a lot of that away and the version that aired was better, but still him.

When I listen to it I hear his history and the history of my lifetime, spent listening to those stories. He told just one story on the air that I’d never heard. It was of the time his mother made him promise, before he left for the war, never to smoke or drink alcohol. They were promises he immediately broke.

I inherited my father’s voice and in the past they have been so similar that I was mistaken for him by people calling our family home. But now my dad has the voice of an old man.

Two years ago, on Memorial Day, I remember going with my Dad on an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. with a lot of other vets his age. Today, WWII is an experience that binds us and separates us. When he is gone, World War II will start to seem like a distant past. But I’ll still have a recording of him talking about it.

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