An Extraordinary Life

By Mary Lou Darst, author of War Ready: In my Father’s Shadow shares an excerpt from her book.  Click here for more info.

We lived an extraordinary life, experiencing cultures on both 
sides of the world in ways that many people will never know. 
In Alaska, we experienced two earthquakes and saw the 
northern lights. Living in the old house in downtown Nara 
was an unforgettable time. Our lives were greatly enriched by 
Mama-sari, Mr. and Mrs. Kimoto, and our beloved Hatsie. My life 
was especially enlarged by the kindness of the Japanese students 
in Nara, who extended themselves in such a caring way to a 
lost and very lonely American child. Mr. and Mrs. Gruckenberg, 
Helga, and Gerhardt were like family to us. Without them we 
would never have really known Munich or the radiant warmth 
of the German people. Jon Madsen, my father’s good friend, 
shared his family in Copenhagen with us and later came to see 
us in the States. Living in Nara and traveling throughout Europe 
and the Mediterranean helped us to understand the historical 
advancement of humankind, while at the same time, witnessing 
powerful forces of human destruction. Our values and our 
horizons were broadened considerably by these experiences, 
but the long, gripping tentacles of war reached far and deep into 
our family life.

Being a military dependent left me with a strong need for 
order and the feeling that I do not belong in anyone place. 
Change is the norm for me, but for people around me, stability 
is the norm. Repetitive behaviors remain the most challenging 
for me. I still struggle with issues of abandonment and rejection. 
When my life as a military dependent ended, I had to assimilate into American life. I had to learn how to be a civilian, how to live 
in one place, how to make and keep friends, and how to work 
out difficulties. Prior to this, my life consisted of always starting 
over; there was never any ending.

After reading my father’s WWII diary for my book, I was 
absolutely astonished to learn what he had experienced and 
endured during WWII as a young soldier.

 

Mary Lou Darst

As an adult looking 
back over my childhood, I can see now that his war experiences 
as a young man affected him throughout his life. I am grateful 
for his strength and admire deeply the courage he demonstrated 
in life. He had a good heart and helped many people, civilians 
and military; throughout his life. From him I learned to 
withstand adversity, to be a strong person, and to not be afraid 
of life. My mother was very good with people and enabled us 
to communicate successfully with people who did not speak 
English. She helped us befriend wonderful people when we 
would otherwise have been very alone. As a military wife she 
created a warm and comfortable home wherever we lived from
army-issue furniture. She entertained often and graciously.

After living in St. James, Missouri, for six months, where my 
father officially retired from the army at Fort Leonard Wood, we 
settled in Houston. My father started a landscaping business that 
later became a small construction company. My mother made a 
career at Trinity Universal Insurance Company. My brother and 
I both graduated from Bellaire High School. I went to Stephen 
F. Austin State University and he joined the Army. On April 6, 
1978, my father died of lung cancer at fifty-eight. A twenty-year 
veteran and army engineer, he was honored forservice to this 
country with a military salute at his funeral. Shortly after his 
death, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. 
Eight years later, on April 6, 1986, she passed away at sixty-two. 
Constantly relocating had robbed my parents of living a stable 
life while giving my brother and me the opportunity to travel and 
experience history and fascinating cultures through out the world.

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