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WWII vet Great Grandpa Marshall, Sonny, and Boomer Dad. Missing Grandpa G.

To Baby Boomers, Their Parents, And Grandparents: Talk when the time’s right.

A recent read revealed the sad tale of one person wishing they had taken the time to speak to their parents more often.

They wished they knew their folks better.

Of course the person was a baby boomer. They had more regret than they needed and found a vent in print.

When he was alive, I found the right moment to talk to my Dad about his Korean War experience.

No regrets here.

After my parents’ divorce, my Dad remarried. During one visit to the newly weds I asked the Korea question:¬†What did you do in the war?

I asked in front of his new wife. He didn’t want to talk about it, but she said, “Tell him what you told me.”

It was a vulnerable moment and I jumped on it.

He decided to talk when the time’s right.

“When we came to a new city, I did the same thing I did in the last. It was a free fire zone. When I walked point I’d get to the end of each block, stick my machine gun around the corner and give a burst before looking.

“Block by block we’d clear the area.”

He told the story while he looked right at me. The look felt like ‘I know what you’re up to.’ I’d seen it before.

He always knew what I was up to.

Except this time I was about twenty four years old. What was I up to? No clue, but it would be the last time I asked what he did in the war.

It was also the first.

As kids, my brothers and I rummaged around his stuff and found medals in his sock drawer, service medals, a Purple Heart, and a Silver Star.

It didn’t mean anything to us, but it had to be important to him.

“Each town and city we moved through, we’d hose the streets.

“One time I got to the end of a block and didn’t shoot first. I took a quick look and saw a woman holding a kid with another standing beside her.

“I gave my guys a signal there were people there. It was a Marine Corps patrol and we kept moving. That’s what I did in the war. Kept moving.”

His new wife called from the kitchen, “That’s not the whole story. Tell him what really happened.”

I sat on the couch looking at my old man. He eye-balled me pretty hard.

“Thank you, Dad,” I said, loud enough to carry. “I’ve always wanted to ask and now I have.”

It was my turn to talk when the time’s right.

His wife came into the room.

“What he told me was…”

“Hey, look at the time,” I said. “I’ve got to run out for a while, but I’ll be back in a few hours. Can I pick anything up?”

I got out of there before they could say much more.

Asking anyone what they did in the war never has an easy answer. Ask a Silver Star Marine what he did and buckle your seatbelt for a rough ride.

He gunned every street corner he came to in every city he walked through except one?

If that’s what he wanted me to believe, I believe it.

I know my Dad’s expressions pretty well.

He was pretty angry when I’d leave the house in the summer of eighth grade and not come home until midnight. For three nights I made up incredible stories, lies to cover where I’d really been.

Where? At my girlfriend’s house, of course.

On the fourth night the hammer came down. I was a liar and he’d had enough.

The treatment he doled out wasn’t easy, but I wasn’t going to break under the punishment. If he could give it, I could take it. This was a man who once ran a Navy brig on an aircraft carrier.

Did I learn my lesson?

The next night I did the same thing, rolling in after midnight with another big escape story.

In the middle of it my Mom said, “He’s lying.” And I was.

But the old man barked back, “No, he’s not, I believe him” while giving me a look that I took as, ‘last chance for BS.’

He and my Mom got into it while Dad stood up for his lying son.

Long story short, that was the last time I lied to my Daddy. If he’d go the mat for me, I wouldn’t be the one to put him there again.

Ten years later, talking about what he did in the war, I saw a familiar expression.

What else did my Dad do in the war?

Gillaspie, Wayne B.
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Corporal Wayne B. Gillaspie (MCSN: 1132710), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving as a Fire Team Leader of Company B, First Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in Korea on 11 September 1951. Participating in the attack against heavily defended enemy hill positions when his squad was subjected to sudden and intense hostile small arms, automatic weapons and mortar fire, inflicting several casualties, including the squad leader who had to be evacuated at once, Corporal Gillespie bravely moved from man to man through the fire-swept area to assume command of the unit. Reorganizing the squad, he skillfully led an assault to overrun the first objective and, after evacuating several wounded men, directed a final devastating attack to completely rout the enemy. By his outstanding courage, inspiring leadership and stout-hearted devotion to duty, Corporal Gillaspie greatly aided the company in seizing its objective and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. Born: Chehalis, Washington. Home Town: Rydewood, Washington.
About David Gillaspie


  1. Gary Bowen says:

    Great story Gillaspie.

    I have found during times of thought provoking inquiry I start with a much lighter question so as to open up the conversation if and when I seek such answers to such horrid recollections. Over time, in my own case such questions can produce what shrinks refer to as triggers or trigger that can spin one’s emotions into a turmoil deep within the soul.

    We, the afflicted ones try our best to carry on as if alls well, as in doing the daily doubles and putting on the smiles and jiles, eventually, over time, often even after many many years happiness can be achieved even realized. But then that trigger kicks ah guy in the ass and damn, down we go again. Increased heart rate, pressure in the eyes, brain fart engages, instant aggravation, for me chest pain suddenly irrupts and can be rather piecing and scary, imitating a heart attack.

    Shingles, another disabling, alarming condition.

    A point whereupon I have honestly thought I would spontaneously irrupt in flame affecting just the one area of my body.

    Over these many years, I have learned to cope, to do all I can to avoid such triggers I speak of.

    Many years ago I attempted to document my recollections, but in the end it was just to much recollection. After 378 pages, it become a total mess moving from Win. 3.1 to Win 95. Of course toss in the author being a totally incompetent writer, a two finger hunt and peck, even worse it was all random deep thought typed print.

    Nowadays, I wonder what exactly do people care about? Especially those under 40 groupings, so much is happening-so much information on the web it boggles the mind.

    My father, a Korean war Vet himself, insists I put my experiences into writing, but I suppose I lack the self initiative to “get-er-done”

    This is my reply, no editing, just my random thoughts as I have not typed much of anything over the last month.


    Gary B.
    Bakersfield, Ca.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      From here, Gary, I’d listen to the old man. You’ve got something to say that might speak to a whole load of people.

      The problem that never goes away is how to do it. Turns out it’s harder than it looks, and the return is never what you expect. Too high, too low, too much, too little. Think of what great bands sounded like starting out. All we get are finished products, the market standard.

      I hear you on triggers. It’s all good until it isn’t. I recently went out with loved ones. It was great. We went to my favorite watering hole, a bite to eat between beers. All good. When we left, they decided to do some shopping. It was a trigger. The moment changed from dude-fest at happy hour, to chick-fest looking for a deal. Downer.

      What do people care about? Until they have kids, it’s an open question. Be a raver, rock and rock all night and party everyday, but let that kid flounder and you’re dirt. Being a parent levels the playing field to caring about one thing more than any other. If that doesn’t work out there’s problems, big problems.

  2. Mark Mullins says:

    Dave, thanks for sharing. That’s some shit. Never knew, course we knew your dad was a tough SOB, just didn’t know how tough.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      It is strange. You’d think a Marine who went through his ordeal would be a loose cannon ready to blow. Imagine what the other side thought when a big red head not only wouldn’t die or retreat, but pushed his guys until they rolled everything up that day.

      • Mark Mullins says:

        Yup, if anyone had a good reason to be a hair trigger it would be your dad. Never saw it though.

        • David Gillaspie says:

          I’d say he was tested pretty severely and passed with flying colors. I don’t think I could’ve stayed quiet if my kids were on such bad football teams year after year. Then came Howard Johnson. I’m glad the guys right after us learned now to win with him.

          That’s one of the good memories, that someone who experienced what he did made it back the way he did. Just another dad with kids going through the system one after another.

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