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"Hardtack and Hard Times": My Father's Flag

May 26th, 2013 11:00 am by Ned Jilton

"Hardtack and Hard Times": My Father's Flag

My dad, Ned Jilton Sr., serving in the army in Germany.

I collect flags, some original, some reproductions, from different periods of our nation’s history. Among the flags of the Civil War, the American Revolution and WW II is one special flag that is the cornerstone of my collection. My father’s flag.

My dad served in the army, 101st Airborne, Able Company of the 502, in Germany. He never told me many stories. He talked about being “soldier of the day”.  

He talked about the boat ride across the ocean as they passed through a storm and also seeing the white cliffs of Dover, England.

Another time he talked about when him and a buddy in his unit, this was post war as part of the army of occupation, decided to try snow skiing even though neither knew what they were doing.

They thought, just for starters, they would ski across the slope before they tried going down the slope. When they stopped on the other side they couldn’t go anywhere so they stepped off their skis to turn them around. 

“The next thing I knew,” my dad said, “I was up to my waist in snow.” 

Being two boys from the South in the United States they hadn’t counted on how deep the snow can get in the mountains of Germany.

He never said anything about combat. The closest he came was talking about patrolling in a diamond formation so that if any squad made contact two others could quickly move to support while the other watched the rear.

Another time my dad talked about waking-up covered in snow and how you move your head just enough to crack the snow to make a slit to see through; you never just lift your head straight up.

My dad’s time in the 101st was cut short by an injury to his right arm that refused to heal. The reason it refused to heal was because of what happened to him early in life. At some point before he was born the blood flow to my dad’s right arm had been restricted. 

When he was born the doctors wanted to amputate but his mother refused to allow them to take his arm and she massaged and worked it regularly.

She saved my dad’s right arm and while it was always a little weaker than his left it didn’t stop him from pitching professional baseball, as a lefty, or making it into the 101st Airborne. But, now, because that right arm refused to heal to the doctors liking he was transferred out, first to the airborne artillery and then to the 2nd Infantry Regiment.

My grandfather’s favorite story about my dad’s military service was when my dad called home from Hitler’s bunker. All these years later I figured out how he did that. 

I learned by looking through his service record that while with 2nd infantry he did some time with the signal corps.

They apparently rigged something up for the soldiers to call home from Berlin.

My dad wanted to stay in the army and applied for Officers Candidate School. He received endorsements from his superiors but somewhere up the chain of command someone stated that he was too old for OCS, the army was trying to revitalize with younger officers. I have to laugh at this because it was this same youth movement that almost kept Gen. George Patton out of WW II, some felt he was too old for field command.

Denied OCS, my dad finished his tour of duty and came home, graduated from ETSC, it was a college and not a university back then, and carried on with his life.

I remember in my later years that my dad always flew an American flag on various holidays. After us kids moved out and my parents moved into their condo he would fly the flag every day. Putting up in the morning and taking it down in the evening or when the weather turned bad.

He even put up the flag the morning he went into the hospital for surgery. Sadly he never came home as cancer claimed him a few days later.

The flag flew unattended for several months until one day I was visiting and happened to notice it. The colors had faded and it had gotten hung in a tree limb. I took the old flag down, rolled it up, and put it in my car planning to turn it over to the VFW or American Legion for proper disposal.

The day came to turn it over but suddenly I didn’t have the heart. As I looked at that faded old flag it struck me, this is my father’s flag. 

He put this flag up every morning and took it down every evening. He defended this flag around the world. He faced this flag, ball cap over his heart, before every ball game he pitched.

As I sat in my car with tears in my eyes I realized that this flag stood for more than a nation, it stood for family. The passing of morals, dreams, ideas and beliefs from father to son, generation to generation dating all the way back to the founding of this nation. I took the old flag home.

My dad had that flag for years, as long as he took care of it the colors stayed bright and true. It only took a few months being left unattended for the colors to fade and the flag fall into disrepair. 

The same could be said for the freedoms we enjoy in this country. As long as we stay vigilant our freedoms could last for centuries. If we let down our guard our freedoms will fade like the colors in that old flag.

I have already placed a small flag on my dad’s grave and this Memorial Day I will fly my flag to honor the service of my father and all those who served with, before and after him. 

My father’s flag will remain safe inside to remind me why they served as well as provide cherished memories his life.

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