Memorial Day: Who I Remember

There’s nothing like a national holiday to make one feel ritualistic.This post was written in 2010 and is making its seventh annual appearance here at First Draft. It was also published in our anthology, Our Fate Is Your Fate:

The veteran I’d like to remember on this solemn holiday is the late Sgt. Eddie Couvillion.

Soldier Boy

My family tree is far too tangled and gnarly to describe here but suffice it to say that Eddie was my second father. He served in Europe during World War II, not in combat but in the Army Quartermaster Corps. In short, he was a supply Sergeant, one of those guys who won the war by keeping the troops fed, clothed and shod. Eddie was what was called in those days a scrounger; not unlike Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22 or James Garner’s character in The Great Escape. 

Eddie’s favorite military exploit was running an army approved bordello in France after hostilities ended. He always called it a cat house and bragged that it was the best little whorehouse in Europe. One can serve one’s country in manifold ways…

Eddie died 5 years ago and I still miss him. He was a remarkable man because he changed so much as he aged. When I met him, he was a hardcore Texas/Louisiana conservative with old South racial views and attitudes. At an age when many people close their minds, Eddie opened his and stopped thinking of black folks as a collective entity that he didn’t care for and started thinking of them as individuals. Eddie was a genuine Southern gentleman so he’d never done or said an unkind thing to anyone but confided to me that the only one he’d ever hurt by being prejudiced was himself. I was briefly speechless because we’d had more than a few rows over that very subject. Then he laughed, shook his head and said: “Aren’t you going to tell me how proud you are of me? You goddamn liberals are hard to satisfy.”

Actually, I’m easily satisfied. In 2004, Eddie had some astonishing news for me: he’d not only turned against the Iraq War but planned to vote for John Kerry because “Bush Junior is a lying weasel and a draft dodger.” That time he didn’t need to ask me if I was proud of him, it was written all over my face. It was the first and only time he ever voted for a Democrat for President.

I salute you, Sgt. Couvillion. I only wish that I could pour you a glass of bourbon on the rocks and we could raise our glasses in a Memorial Day toast.

2 thoughts on “Memorial Day: Who I Remember

  1. My dad was a supply sergeant also, so a salute to your dad and mine. My father’s specialty was being able to supply his guys with meals supplemental to rations. He was in the 69th Infantry Division, and his company was made up of young guys who’d mainly grown up in east coast and midwestern cities. My father was in his thirties and a country boy so the chickens and and a hog that they requisitioned from the Nazi mayor of one of the towns they went through, my dad was able to butcher and cook, also make biscuits from flour from the mayor’s bakery.

    I’m sure he saw some horrible stuff, but these are the stories he told, the funny ones, about being one of the few who weren’t seasick on the way over and back, about meeting up with the Russians. His lieutenant could speak Russian as he was from a Ukrainian family in Chicago. The only time my mother knew exactly where my dad was in Europe was when the news announced the meetup with the Russians on the Elbe and mentioned that it was Lieutenant Kotzebue’s company, my dad’s company.

    Thanks for prompting my own Memorial Day memories.

  2. clifford schoenbech. the only family that did not make it back. and bob gumm who was changed by the pacific,

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