by Jeremiah Norris (Colombia 1963-65)
(This Profile is drawn from a sensitive and warm-hearted book review by Donald Dimberger, Eastern Caribbean/Antigua, 1977-78 of Every Day Since Desenzano: A Tale of Gratitude, by Patrick Logan, Thailand, 1984-86.
In the popular film It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey longs to hear the sounds of “anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.” Patrick Logan also longed to hear them.
However, to his father they meant separation from the things he held dear. He fought in Italy during WW II and survived through luck and by writing letters almost daily to the woman he’d married just before shipping out. In contrast, his younger son, Patrick, sought overseas adventure, initially as a Peace Corp Volunteer in Thailand. Then, following his father’s death, Patrick inherited those wartime letters, and in them, he learned much about the man from whom he’d grown distant, emotionally at first and then geographically. He decided to trace the route his father had taken through war-torn Italy, guided by passages from those letters, and by books on his father’s Army division, including its combat history.
Subsequently, on his way to Desenzano in northern Italy, Patrick encounters many people with their own memories of the war. One, called Angelo Filosa, recalled members of an Army unit handing out chocolate in Trivio; and the frail, white-haired woman in San Miniato’s church of Santissima Annunziata told him she been called “pretty” like a German girl by the Wehrmacht soldiers occupying her town. Patrick used the letters and poetry of his father, the dairies of the 88th (Blue Devils Division of the U. S. Army) Regimental HQ, and of his father’s maps of Italy, to encounter people of that country, and to retrace, as much as possible, his father’s steps during WW II. These are interwoven and intermingled in a moving and touching masterpiece of prose that touches the heart of all men for we are like our father but do not know that until much later in our lives. Many of our generation were born of our fathers who served, and came home to seek peace and solace from what they had witnessed and helped to end.
Other encounters were more poignant: the two elderly women of Campodimele who kept their backs to the chilly north wind and their wartime memories to themselves, and the man walking slowly along Rome’s Via Rasella, who paused to share his own personal tragedy — the execution of his father by the Nazis.
The book itself is written about a father and a son living their lives through their words and their gift of giving and sharing the concept of service to others. Learning the importance of family often takes many years and carries each on different journeys. But, in time, we come to cherish those who, with gratitude, understand us, even when we did not understand ourselves.
In his book, Patrick recounts, through his father, his mother, his family and his own searching and seeking, and via a journey to reconnect the tunnels of their lives by understanding how words written, reminisce about are memories of a love held dear. Generations of forefathers heeded the call when asked to carry the burden, and as Patrick’s father spent his days apart from his new wife, the words sent to her would in time connect in much the same way. As family, we serve one another, sharing, caring, praising, teaching, loving, and in time the roles reverse — and that is how Patrick embarked upon his own voyage of self-discovery. That discovery took him, after his own service in Peace Corps as a teacher of language, back to his roots found in the letters sent home from his father to his mother.
But we are never quite privy to the source of that eternal gift until either they share it with us, or, in their passing, we discovered it through their diaries, letters and keepsakes. In WW II, perhaps the most telling description of what a soldier goes through was written by CBS Correspondent Erik Sevaried in Not So Wild a Dream:
Only the soldier really understands the war. The journalist does not. The observer knows he has alternatives of action; the soldier knows that he has none. Their worlds are very far apart, for one is free, the other a slave. War happens inside a man. It happens to one man alone. It can never be communicated. That is the tragedy—and perhaps the blessing. If by the miracles of art and genius, in later years, two or three among them can open up their hearts and the right words come, then perhaps we shall all know a little of what it was like. And we shall know then, that all the present speakers and writers hardly touched the story.
Patrick managed to capture that story through a blend of memoir, history and travelogue. Every Day Since Desenzano details a son’s discovery of a father’s greatest gift: the importance of gratitude. Patrick had wanted to hear George Bailey’s anchor chains and crossed the world in search of them, only to realize later through research and writing of the book that his father’s words and deeds had become anchor chains, not ones to hold him back, as he had once believed, but chains that have given him a kind of philosophical mooring.
Most assuredly, then, Patrick’s sharing of that heart-revealing story carried his extended Peace Corps family to a shared garden of remembrance, warranting him a Profile in Citizenship.