War Children

May 30, 2010

A support group helps people who lost fathers or mothers in World War II answer questions and face grief, in part by helping them visit their parent’s grave on Memorial Day.

by David Rattigan

When Donna LaPointe was a young girl living in Lowell, answers about her dad were hard to come by.

“I would ask my mother when I was younger, ‘What was the reason my daddy fought in the war?’ and she would say, ‘Well, this is just what he had to do,’ ” said LaPointe, 68, who lives in Amesbury. “That never really gave me much comfort, and then we just wouldn’t talk about it. I don’t know why they did that in those days. I guess they just couldn’t show emotion.”

LaPointe is the daughter of Army Sergeant William G. Aubut, 119th Infantry, 30th Division, a Tewksbury native who was killed in action at age 27 on Feb. 23, 1945, in Germany, when his daughter was 3 years old.

Approximately 183,000 children of American service men and women lost parents during World War II, and are now in their 60s and older. Some will more fully grasp the reasons for their parents sacrifice this weekend at US military cemeteries in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Geraldine Conway Morenski, 68, of Merrimac, is the daughter of Corporal David L. Conway of Lynn, killed in action on April 14, 1945, in Weissenfels, Germany, when she was 3.

As vice president of the American World War II Orphans Network, she has organized three trips this year for people who lost parents during the war, and their families — about 100 people in all — to visit their parents — graves on Memorial Day.

Previously, the network had sponsored three such trips, including one to the Philippines.

Morenski said she remembers the emotions she felt when she stood at her father’s grave at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, in Margraten, the Netherlands, for the first time in 1985.

“I don’t like the word ‘closure,’ ” Morenski said. “For me, closure always sounds like a door slamming. This was an aperture — an opening to another place. It’s a place where you can touch a stone, see a name, and then when you see what happens there — with the love from the people of the Netherlands to these soldiers, after 65 years — it heals you.

“There’s a part of me that knows that my father will be forever remembered there. It’s the only place I’ve ever gone where somebody has thanked me for my father’s service. That was something that knocked me over.”

Many of those who lost parents during World War II were left with unanswered questions and unresolved grief, Morenski said, in part because theirs was a generation that never addressed it. Theirs was a generation that focused on moving on, and there was little discussion of the loss.

“We never talked about it as children,” she said. “It’s only as we got older, [that we] started asking the question of who this man was that was our father. It took a lot to get information from people who had seen horror [and] it was a different generation; people didn’t talk about feelings.”

Diane Pollard, 65, was 6 months old when her father died.

“My mother remarried when I was 5, and he adopted me,” recalls Pollard, who now lives in Durham, N.H. “We never talked about it. It was like it would have been disloyal to my stepfather, in a way. Then after a while, it didn’t seem real.”

Recalling the emotional moments when she visited her father’s grave in 2007, she experienced both tears and a sense of serenity and connection.

“I think it did make it more real, to see his name on the marker,” she said.

All three women will make the trip this year, Pollard to Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium, and LaPointe and Morenski to Margraten, the Netherlands.

They will find flowers and flags everywhere and crowds numbering in the thousands. Many of those from Holland and Belgium will approach them afterward to express gratitude for their fathers’ sacrifice.

“For them it’s the gratitude of what the American soldiers did for them in World War II,” Morenski said. “I’ve been told more than once, ‘The Americans came and saved my country, and then they went home.’ They didn’t conquer it; they went home. It almost is an outpouring of love.”

While all three said that their previous trip brought them peace, making the journey is an emotionally packed decision for many.

Morenski told of one man who declined to attend this year’s trip.

“I know that if I see the grave my heart will break,” the man told her.

© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company

In Memory of CPL David L. Conway, CPT James Howard Hardy, and SGT William G. Aubut.