Like Peter Quinn’s uncle (“Frankie’s Secret,” February 13), my father, Vince, didn’t talk much about the First World War. He viewed with mild contempt the veterans who gathered at the American Legion Hall to relive reimagined versions of their war.
We learned that he considered the piece of shrapnel in his leg a blessing despite the pain it regularly caused him. This wound had been his passport away from the trenches to a stateside hospital. (Perhaps Frankie drove the ambulance that carried him away from the front.) Only because my brother and I pestered him did he apply for, and receive, the Purple Heart to which he was entitled. He scarcely glanced at it and wasn’t bothered that my brother and I circulated it among our playmates till the medal came apart from the purple ribbon.
Since he sometimes referred familiarly to Château-Thierry and Saint-Mihiel, we inferred he had been involved in some major battles. He was mostly silent about his own experiences. The one moment he did recount helped us to imagine the rest—how he and his companions watched from a trench as a soldier sent out for the evening’s mess was blown to bits by an enemy shell.
Unlike Frankie, my father was able to put together a life after the war. He...