Jenna Caplette
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Jenna Caplette migrated from California to Montana in the early 1970s, first living on the Crow Indian reservation, then moving to Bozeman where she owned a downtown retail anchor for eighteen years. These days she owns Bozeman BodyTalk & Energetic Healthcare, hosts a monthly movie night, teaches and writes about many topics.

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My dad flew 98 missions during WWII. He was awarded the Air Medal and Oak Leaf Cluster.

It’s easy to forget that has anything to do with Memorial Day.

When I used to be in retail, Memorial Day was an excuse to design a promotion.

In doing DUI Prevention, I have an accelerated awareness of high risk drive times. So I open up extra hours for clients in my BodyTalk practice on Memorial Day itself and stay put.

This last Christmas my sister Nancy designed an incredible book about our dad’s WWII experiences. I pulled it out just now, thinking about this blog post, the upcoming long weekend, and my father who will be 94 this summer.

When he entered Standford University as a freshman in 1936, he had to sign on for two years of physical activity. He says, “One of the elections was ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corp). Standford was home to a horse drawn field artillery unit. The artillery was WWI with French 75 mm guns. However the horses were first rate and students rode them instead of marching. I chose ROTC and enjoyed the equitation very much.”

From physical activity and horses to a commission in the reserves to the telegraph that arrived on December 18, 1941: REQUEST THAT YOU REPORT TO FIRST ARMY BASE BOSTON MASS IMMEDIATELY AT YOUR OWN EXPENSE TO MAKE A FINAL TYPE PHYSICAL EXAMINATION FOR EXTENDED ACTIVE DUTY AT FT LEWIS WN . . .”.  By 1944 he was on the moors of southwestern England, where he attended a course in intelligence gathering, including air observation. “Small, light and able to read a map and find the location of plane and targets from the air with facility,” my dad was chosen as an artillery air observer. He landed at Utah Beach shortly after D-Day, “continuing on across France, Belgium, Battle of the Bulge, and ultimately in to Germany.” 

Sometimes as a child, my mother would let us look at Brownie camera snapshots my father brought home with him from the war, all but the few taken in concentration camps after liberation. I knew it was something special to look at the photographs, that WWII had potent meaning to my parents, but growing up and into the Vietnam War era, I frankly didn’t get it.

I still don’t completely understand, though reading thrillers set in Europe has helped, so many have plots grounded in the outcomes of the war. I’ve had BodyTalk clients with parents who grew up in WWII camps, writing students who have written their WWII experiences.

It just has seemed so long ago, so far away.

Less so when my dad pulls out a map to find our route to some destination. Not for him, MapQuest or Google Maps.

I just fully realized in the past year, how strategic he is, how quick is his mind. He was 90 before I began doing much of the driving during our visits. We’ve had to learn how to finesse that interaction. He’s five cars ahead when we travel, thinking of how to safely and efficiently make that next green light, shave a few seconds, a minute or three off our anticipated time of arrival.

Growing up, his split second timing when driving frankly terrified me, especially as we passed cars on narrow two lane roads. I rode in the back seat with one of my sisters or another, or both, and metaphorically gripped the seat. Once, on the way home from a summer family vacation, he drove our travel trailer up Gough Street in San Francisco. I remember a nearly vertical drive, must have white knuckled every time we stopped at a red light, wondering if our Ford Galaxy would have the strength to pull the Airstream trailer forward on green.

Thus part of my fascination with issues of Traffic Safety, I think.

The book my sister designed includes a news piece saying that my dad flew in a light plane, very much like the Piper Cub, to “such a position over or near the target that he can spot results of the fire of his own artillery. In this way he can direct the fire of the guns more closely on to the target. Ordinarily this form of observation takes the plane over enemy lines.”

My dad says that in Germany, he saw “very hard action for the infantry.. . Every night truckloads of replacements would be driven past our CP. They filled in for the killed or wounded in previous actions. One of the generals was relieved of command of his division. Even high officers cannot handle the stress sometimes.

“I flew almost daily, searching for visible activity on the ground on which to fire, but visible activity would have been a death warrant. . . I was always far enough away in the airplane not to be in too much direct action but close enough to feel the immediacy of the situation.”

I’m lucky. My dad came home from the war. I’m lucky. I still have him here to enjoy, to email, to call, to share too-short visits. I’ve had time to better appreciate his experiences, to better know and appreciate him.

I’m lucky. We’ve learned to almost relax when I drive us somewhere and he serves as our spotter, to appreciate our differences in style.

Almost.