Column: Death brought new meaning to Veterans Day

by Pam Pommer

Guest Columnist

 

For most of my life, Veterans Day was pretty much just a day on the calendar.

Yes, my dad served in Patton’s army, but that seemed like an incidental fact from the past. Being a modest member of the Greatest Generation, dad rarely spoke about the war.

In the fall of 2000, my sister and I took our parents up to Grand Marais. Dad had been going downhill as his Parkinson’s disease progressed. Revisiting the site of many happy family vacations, however, really rejuvenated dad. He spent time skipping stones on the shore and ate with more enthusiasm than we’d seen in years.

In December, dad fell and lost his ability to walk. While in rehab, we hoped dad would get better and return home. But he quickly went downhill. Buying presents that year was a challenge. When we bought his favorite weather calendar, we wondered how long he’d use it.

On Jan. 6, 2001, dad passed away and was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. The Memorial Rifle Squad performed the honors including a color guard, a rifle volley and the presentation of the flag. I’d seen it many times in movies so I thought I knew what to expect. But it took my breath away:

On behalf of the president of the United States and the people of a grateful nation, I present this flag as a token of appreciation for the honorable and faithful service rendered by your husband, Captain George O. Pommer …”

It had been more than 55 years since dad had served in the 94th Infantry Division. Yet there we were at a military ceremony honoring my father. They never forget their own.

My Uncle Don, who spoke at dad’s service, referred to Tom Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation.” “Most of them did not talk willingly about their experiences. Much of what they believed in, fought for, were wounded for and too many died for, was never verbalized. While their modesty and reserved nature would reject any reference to the debt we owe them, they are heroes in our eyes.”

Soon after the funeral, we found a box containing a Bronze Star and two other medals tucked beneath underwear in dad’s top bureau drawer. We also found four five-year diaries that he kept from 1941 to 1960. How ironic that dad managed daily entries during the war, but sporadic entries after Lori and I were born. Were we more challenging and time-consuming than helping to save Europe?

Then we found a piece of paper marked: “Official – Headquarters 94th Infantry Division.”

Award of the Bronze Star Medal. First Lieutenant GEORGE O. POMMER … for meritorious service in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States in Germany from 28 January 1945 to 22 March 1945. While performing duties of Battalion S-2, Lieutenant POMMER made extensive reconnaissance of forward positions and selected advantageous locations for observation posts… On one occasion he moved forward in the face of intense enemy fire and recovered charred enemy documents which revealed the location of key enemy gun emplacements. Lieutenant POMMER’S indomitable courage, initiative and loyal devotion to duty reflected the highest credit upon himself and the Army of the United States.”

Intense enemy fire. Indomitable courage. These were not words I associated with dad. He was a quiet guy who was devoted to his family, took us on great vacations and loved to garden. But moving with indomitable courage through enemy lines?

In the past, when we had asked about his war days, dad only told us about the lighter moments like spending time with the beautiful Olga and her baroness aunt and dining at their villa in Czechoslovakia. I’d always envisioned dad serving alongside Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin’s army. I never imagined him actually on the battlefield, facing enemy fire. I was sad I couldn’t tell him how proud I was.

Veterans Day is no longer just a day on the calendar for me. Last week, and throughout the year, I take time to reflect and honor the brave men and women who have risked everything in service of a nation that is not always grateful enough.

Pam Pommer, a graduate of Lincoln Senior High School, works and lives in Bloomington, where she enjoys gardening and spending time with her shelties. She can be contacted at [email protected]