Jim Goldsworthy

My father had polio and almost died when he was 2 years old, but didn’t. Otherwise, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation.

He was drafted, but failed the physical. That may have kept him from being one of the thousands of Americans who died invading Normandy on D-Day, or the 417,000 lost during World War II.

Late in his life, he told me it still bothered him that he hadn’t been able to go with his brother Abe Goldsworthy and their cousin Beverly Hayes to defend America.

I inherited my Dad’s 4-F status, having lost a kidney in high school, and Dad knew how I felt about not being able to serve — particularly because my high school friends Jim Bosley and Craig Haines had died in Vietnam. 

He knew I wondered why it had been them, and not me, and he wanted me to know it was a question he had asked himself. The Lord must have had other purposes for my father and me, but that’s for Him to know ... not us.

Uncle Abe was hard to live with for a long time and tried for 40 years to drink himself to death. I was told never to ask him about the war in which he was an Army medic in Europe.

When he put the bottle away, he became one of the most wonderful men I’ve ever known, overflowing with love for others. 

One Veterans Day, I called to tell him he was my only living relative who was a veteran, and I wanted to thank him for my freedom. He began talking to me about his time in World War II and never stopped — but always waited until we were alone. He became my hero.

Cousin Beverly was a radio operator and gunner on a B-17 bomber who died when it was shot down Aug. 24, 1944, on a mission to Merseburg, Germany.

His daughter, Kathryn Ann, was born six weeks later. His wife, Lucille, wouldn’t know she was a widow until after the war was over. His mother, Margaret, died unexpectedly on the 36th anniversary of his death.

What would Bev have been like if he had survived the war? Would I have loved him as much as I did my father and my uncle? I’ll never know, but I hope so. 

I found a letter Grandmother Goldsworthy wrote to the U.S. Army, saying she hadn’t heard from her son Abram for some time and wanted to know if he had “gone across” — meaning across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.

A general returned it with a note that said Abe was still in the United States, but security required that he not say where.

My grandmother’s letter was postmarked on June 6, 1944. Like millions of other mothers across the United States, she must have been beside herself wondering if her son was part of the D-Day invasion.

He wasn’t, but when he did go across — she knew about it.

When I was a little kid, she told me that one morning she woke up to see Abe standing at the foot of her bed, in his uniform, with his arms held out to her. Then he vanished.

She remembered exactly when that happened and asked Abe about it when he came home.

At that exact time, he was standing on the deck of a troopship, watching a German torpedo come straight at him. It went between his feet and under the ship without exploding.

My uncle was able to defeat the demons that possessed him. What he told me helped me to understand what had made him the way he was.

He became proud of his service and wished to have a military funeral, which neither my cousins, nor my father or I would ever have anticipated. I hope that my listening to him and caring about him and what he told me had something to do with that.

Abe said he and the other medics carried pistols because the Germans would shoot them first. They were the ones who treated wounded soldiers and returned them to combat. He never told me that he didn’t use it, and I didn’t ask.

Men who’ve served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War have told me that having to take another human life changes your life forever, and not for the better. It never goes away.

Abe and his buddies entered a bunker and found several dead Germans who had their arms folded over their chests and bullet holes in their foreheads.

They had been wounded in ways that left them unable to walk, and the other Germans killed them so as not to be burdened with them during their retreat.

He said that was the day he fully realized the nature of the evil that America was confronting.

Abe’s description of how it felt to be too close to a German artillery shell when it went off was virtually the same as what I heard from Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient John Baca. Baca put his helmet over a hand grenade, then covered it with his body, to save his eight buddies. He showed me his scars.

Abe thought he would lose his arm until a doctor he knew from back home said he would see to it that the arm stayed where it was. My uncle was a barber and cut my hair with the hand and arm that doctor saved.

I interviewed three men who were part of D-Day for stories that appeared in the Times-News last week, and it was humbling. I felt each time as though I had been entrusted with briefly holding a national treasure.

It was almost like listening to my late uncle and some of my friends, including a man who who had been a helicopter pilot in Iraq.

He kept saying, “Eleven, eleven. eleven” because that’s how many men he had killed with the weapons on his aircraft.

I asked him to try to think instead of how many Americans may have gone home to their loved ones because of what he did, and he said he would try. 

What my friends have told me has changed my life. They tell me I should thank God that I didn’t have to go with them to Vietnam, and I do, but a small part of me will always regret that I didn’t. My father would understand.

Fate — and perhaps Divine intervention — dictated that neither Dad nor I had to pay the price of freedom, but he knew what it was, and so do I.

We have seen it, we have heard it, and we have felt it sobbing in our arms. For us, this is the memory that never goes away.

To those of you who have served: Thank you for my freedom. Welcome Home.

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