Family memories in the wee hours

Do you ever have one of those nights when you wake up in the wee hours and can’t get back to sleep again? (For clarification, “wee hours” in this scenario is defined as the hours immediately after midnight and not necessarily the reason old men wake up shortly after midnight, although)

It happened to me a few nights ago. After falling asleep quickly and sleeping soundly I awoke around 2:30 a.m. – wide awake. Oddly, I was hungry. I usually have a bedtime snack and around 10 p.m. had eaten a large apple which was preceded four hour earlier by a good supper.

Finally, around 2:45 a.m. I got up, poured a glass of milk and grabbed a couple of cookies. While enjoying the cookies (I always enjoy cookies) I turned on the television to see what was on at this hour.

I got rid of my satellite dish several weeks ago so my viewing was limited to whatever was on the air at 2:45 a.m.

Flipping through the channels, I landed on one of the “retro” stations where there was something vaguely familiar about the black and white scene. When I couldn’t determine what it was that was so familiar I clicked on the remote button that brings up the title of the program and then I knew. It was an episode from Combat!

Combat! – a one-hour World War II drama series – ran from 1962-1967 on ABC. The stories were based on a frontline American infantry squad as they fought their way across Europe.

Suddenly, time rolled back 50 years. In my mind’s eye I could see the old RCA console black and white TV in my parents’ home with my three brothers and I huddled in front of it. More significantly, I could see my father huddled in front of the TV with us.

Dad wasn’t a big fan of television, referring to much of what was aired in those days as “junk.” He would be mortified by what passes as entertainment on the tube today.

He was, however, a huge fan of the Combat! television series which was the one show Dad enthusiastically watched with his sons.

Dad was a veteran of World War II, drafted into the U.S. Army shortly after his 18th birthday in January 1945. He was being trained for Pacific duty but, thanks to Harry Truman’s courage, did not have to serve there. Ultimately, Dad was assigned to quartermaster duty in Paris.

Though he never saw combat, Dad was a proud veteran and shared many stories about his military experience with his children.

Dad had a difficult time talking to us boys about the birds and the bees but when I was in my teens he told me several times about basic training films on VD, grimacing each time he described what venereal disease can do to a man’s body. I got the message.

Dad told me about how he bought a beautiful gold watch from a buddy who needed cash for a night out on the town and about his trips across the Atlantic on troop ships. He delighted in telling about his train trip through our family’s ancestral home region in Germany and how beautiful the Statue of Liberty was when his ship pulled into New York Harbor.

Huddled in front of the TV set with his four sons, Dad exhibited boyish excitement as Second Lieutenant Gil Hanley and Sergeant “Chip” Saunders led their troops through one battle after another.

So it was shortly before 3 a.m. on a recent morning that my sleeplessness became a sweet reunion of sorts as I recalled the early 1960s and the wonderful home in which I was raised.

Dad passed away more than 20 years ago and his four sons are now middle aged. Even his two little daughters who were too young to share his enthusiasm for Combat! are middle-aged (my description; not theirs.)

The episode of Combat! ended about the time I finished my cookies and milk so I turned off the television and went back to bed. Memories of childhood and home rolled through my mind and eventually I fell asleep again.

War is indeed hell but memories of watching Combat! on TV with my father and my brothers were sweet.