Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Some Called Him Hawkshaw

Because today is Veteran's Day, I thought it would be appropriate to finally introduce my father to my blog. I'm not only Lolo's Child, (and you've certainly all met Lolo here), but I am also Don's Child...some called him Hawkshaw.

No doubt, now that I've opened this door, I'm going to regale you with other stories about him, but today's opening story is of a Veteran. You see, he lost both legs above the knee near the end of World War II - at the ripe old age of 19. He was a foot soldier, whose job was to carry a bale of wire on the Phillipine Island of Mindanao. Just as they stopped for a rest, his unit was hit by a mortar shell. When he "came to," briefly, he felt for his legs and knew that one was hanging on by shreds, but the other appeared intact.

Taken immediately to basic medical facilities, both legs were removed above the knee. The one he thought was intact was so loaded with schrapnel, the doctors didn't feel it could be saved. Once stabilized, he was sent back to the US, where he spent a full year in a VA hospital near Salt Lake City - far from home and family for a young man from Minnesota.

The only thing he ever mentioned about his time in that hospital was that he played checkers almost daily with a fellow patient, a German POW. Neither ever learned to speak the other's language, they just played checkers together. About 20 years later, we took a family road trip and found that hospital; I remember little about it except that it was white, stucco, looked a bit like a large abandoned bakery, and sat back at the end of a long drive with a lawn in front. We didn't go any closer, just drove from Minneapolis to Salt Lake, and looked at the building from the end of the long driveway.

He spoke little of his experiences in WWII. Because his disability was the way he always was for me, I didn't find anything unusual about having a father with no legs. Only when we went out in public - long before any disabilities acts were in place - did I realize that our family was different. Someday I'll tell you stories about curbs without ramps, buildings without elevators, and children who walked backwards and stumbled while staring.

However, much like the men mentioned in Tom Brokaw's book about the Greatest Generation, my father didn't think he merited any special treatment or unusual attention. The fourth of "Ma Kraemer's boys" to go off to war, he simply did what he felt was right, came back, got a job in a factory, met & married, had two children.

Only in later years did I realize what a hero he was - yet another silent hero - because he did just that. We took for granted that this man who could ride a horse, drive a car or tractor, build an addition on the house, and "scoot" up a long flight of stairs to attend his nephew's wedding reception, never expected special treatment nor looked for a "handout."

He taught himself to walk, and walk well, wearing wooden legs with clanky metal knees. Therapists raved that he could walk without his canes in the house, and use but one cane outside - as you can see below, in the photo of him carrying me, his 8 month old child.

During my junior high years, he was told he could no longer have his wooden legs, he was forced to switch to "new and better" legs with soft cups and hydraulic knees. He hated them, found them painful, and never wore his artificial legs again. The photo below, taken in 1979, shows the way he looked most of the rest of his life - usually in a wheelchair (though sometimes sitting on a leather pad on the ground, with a strap across his thighs). When we had company, he would let the pants legs hang, giving some illusion of legs. Most often, however, he would simply tuck the ends of his pants up into the belt.

Though I have many, many stories to tell - from his youthful love of horses, to his grandfatherly love of my children, and all the living that came between - today's story is about just one of many veterans who gave so much, without expectation or complaint.

"Hawkshaw" died in 1982 at the age of 56 from one massive heart attack. We were told that amputees have a higher incidence of heart disease.

I still miss him.

Donald J. Kraemer

April 4, 1926 - June 5, 1982

10 comments:

Rachel Murphree said...

Sue, what a lovely tribute to your dad, and to the Greatest Generation. Thanks so much for sharing him with us. he sounds like a wonderful man!

Linda Fleming said...

What a remarkable man! Your writing about your father truly touched me.

Chris/Son said...

Mom—Thank You for sending us the email letting us know about this posting on your blog. I have your blog marked as one of my favorites and try to check it often, but have to admit that I have been slipping as of late.

It has been so long since I have seen a picture of Grandpa. I have such vivid memories of him - most of them my own and some of them were recollections of things that were further backed up by stories that you have told since – But all of them remain very much a part of me and my childhood. As you put it, him scooting just about everywhere and that the size of his arms where always something that I thought were amazing…to a little boy, I remember them being as big as tree trunks. Or like the time that the rabbits and varmints were eating Grandma’s vegetable garden to pieces and the two of us, him in his wheelchair, me standing next to him with my BB gun waiting for them to come out.

For some reason, this posting made me a little teary when I was reading it. Maybe it is because now, I have a little one on the way and the only way that I am going to get to share his greatness and Grandma’s is through stories like these and pictures. Or that I still have the belt that he made for me out of the leather and rivets that he used to make his own saddles and reins for the horses, so I could pass it along to a son of my own.

I tell stories about him as often as I can…most of the time they all start when I am talking about the farm, but all of them end with me telling people what an amazing person he truly was. Even though he passed when us kids were all so young, I have always considered him my hero as well.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful story. This is part of his life that I've never heard. I only know him as "Uncle Don", your dad, who had no legs. It was so common to see him up on a tractor, that it never occured to me as a child to wonder how he got up there!

Anonymous said...

Ooops! I thought it would show my blog name but it didn't!

- - Deb

joggerellablog said...

Sue, I'm so glad you told me about your blog...whenever I'm feeling out of sorts I read it and it always fills me with awe and lifts my spirits! And your story about your Father did that for sure! It jogged my memory about the men/fathers I knew growing up.

I also love your pictures of nature, your pet stories and those dolls! What personality, each one special!

Your friend in Virginia, Joanne McCandlish

Tami said...

What a beautiful story of your father. It sounds like he was an amazing everyday hero ... those are often the best ones. Thanks so much for sharing his story with us. :-)

Lisa Laz said...

Sue, I'm such a sucker for stories of times from the past - and this one is so original. You write beautifully - and I see where Bekah gets her story telling abilities from....that was fun to read and it left me wanting so much more! Like how did your parents meet? What did your mom's parents say? What struggles did they have and overcome? Now it sort of sounds like I'm a stalker doesn't it...ha ha.
(From Bekah's friend Lisa)

GraceBeading said...

Oh Sue... what a wonderful story you have shared of your dad - thanks so much for taking the time to share a bit of your history, I found if extremely interesting and quite touching.

DooflinkyDolls said...

Sue,
What an incredible stroy and so lovingly conveyed. My life partner has muscular dystrophy. I know the difficulties that still exist for a person with a disability in our time, how truly courageous to live life so fully without the benefits of today's disability act. Thank you for sharing.

Joyce