Forever Grateful for My Dad

This blog is unlike anything I have written in the past.  I was going through my attic to see if I could find some Military memories from my dad in honor of Veteran’s Day tomorrow.  What I found instead was the story of his life.  It is beautifully handwritten in his perfect capitalized printing, in pencil. I have typed it as a permanent keepsake, not only for how it touches me and my brother and our families but also including my one surviving aunt and my many cousins.

I’m profoundly touched by finding this treasure today. There are misspellings and some punctuation errors; I guess that’s where I get it from!

Welcome to my dad’s life:

The Life Span of one A. Bergher       Handwritten on October 1, 1991

Date January 3, 1922. I came into this world at a very early age, in fact right away something was up…it was my butt. Someone was slapping the hell out of it. As all good babies, I did what all good babies do, I cried…wow!  I became an instant hero, I was breathing.

Seemed like I had cataracts on both eyes, couldn’t see a damn thing, but I felt the warmth of someone who I learned later was my mother.

Age 3-4, I’m really motivated to not falling down very much. So I’m standing there and they’re putting this dark blue “velvet” pants with spenders on me for fit-with a white shirt-ruffled sleeve and blue velvet vest over it.  Knee high stockings and black patten (sic) leather shoes, Boy!!  I was the apple of my mother’s eyes-Hell I was her seventh child.

Age 5, cried all the way to school.  They were dumping me with a bunch of other snooty (sic) nose kids.  Everyone seemed to have colds.  I wasn’t impressed with early education.  But that cool free white milk they gave us tasted good.  I think they’re sending me a message.  Never did find out what it was-still didn’t like school.

I remember getting reprimanded for defacing some stenciled words on the school house wall. Heck, now you’re bashed for putting them on the walls…”Graffiti” they call it.

As I aged-can’t say very well, “say as I grew” that all came between 10 and 15 years.  As I reflect back to those years, “The wonder years I call it” I had befriended a bunch of nice guys-most of them were “Polish” and “I” was the toughest among them.  “Had to be” coz (sic) I was the only Jewish boy in the neighborhood.  It’s called survival of the fittest!

No rich kids in our area, everyone knew everyone else’s jobs.  I still think I had the better deal tho. (Sic)  See I got to attend the Jewish Holidays and  sure the Christian faith made me share their holidays- neat! Huh!

Boy I could eat hamburgers with milk shakes on Friday’s. A Catholic could not back then. (This is Marsha speaking here, I can’t imagine he did that, he was raised in an Orthodox home, you didn’t mix meat and dairy, but perhaps outside his home it was okay, I’ll never know)

So my buddies would say “Sonny” (my nickname then and until this day) Enjoy your hamburger it’s made with pork!  Wow, I’m an Orthodox Jew!  “Oh well, it still tastes good fellas, you can have yours one minute after midnight—glory be its Saturday!”

Age 17 ½- I’m as tall as I’ll ever get.  My Buddy Ed across the street says “Hey, Let’s join the Navy and see the world.”  Good –idea!  Down to the local recruiting office we go. “Ok, Fellas, to join there are a few tests to be taken.”  Ok!  “Ed, you go first, you’re taller than me.” Ed takes the color blind test and gets 14 out of 15 right!  “Okay, Sonny, your turn.”  I look at these polka dotted panels of multi colors and start 11, 14, 6, 8, 10 and so on.  Ok sir, how did I do? He says…”Ya got 13 out of 15, ALL WRONG.  You’re color blind, get the hell out of here.” And there went my world tour.

“Hey Ed, let’s join the National Guards.”  We’re in the office and this rotund fella with a lot of stripes on his sleeve says “Ya want to join the Nat’l Guards? Yea Ed and I say in unison.  How old are you?  I’m 18” (well 17 1/2) pretty close to 18, but he doesn’t have to know that.)

Ok sign the papers, which we did and then he says “Good, I’ve got you for three years!” I feel good, now I get to see many of my friends at the weekly drills. Especially during the long winters when there’s not much activity.  Gets cold in Duluth Minnesota, Jan-March.

Feb 1940, FDR decides to mobilize the Nat’l Guards of all 48 states for 1 year of training.  Seems a guy named Hitler is raising hell in Europe, which slowly started in 1936.

June 1940, I graduate from High School, really?  Or did they just kick me out. Not sure!

Feb 1941, with gear packed all those shots for Malaria, typhoid etc, we drive into the Rising Sun (very poetic) (Marsha again, my dad just cracks me up!)

Headed for Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Training, training, training, and more training. Tactics Blue Army fighting the Gray Army in the country side.  Killing each other with our broom handle rifles.  When I wasn’t shooting someone I used it as a baseball ball bat and hit rocks.  Got pretty good too.

Dec 7, 1941, Japan forces hit Pearl Harbor…WAR!  We gear up packed.  Hello train! Where are you taking us? Hi Fort Dix, New Jersey.  Training, training.  Hello Boat! Where are you taking us?  Hi Belfast, North Ireland. Raining, raining, training training.  Hello Boat! Where you going this time?  Scotland!  Good never been there. Hey why the train? Now where? Oh!! Darby, England. Well! Hey! How long? That long!!!  Hello Boat!  Back to the U.S.A.? What!!! North Africa! 

Landed at Mers el Kibir on January 3, 1943 (My birthday) 21 years old.  Hey Sarge, “I don’t want to fight!  I am a confirmed coward!”

Well we did fight after driving thru Algeria to Tunisia.  We did quite well!  With the British 8th Army pushing the vaunted German Africa Corp led by the brilliant German General known as the “Desert Fox” Gen. Rommel.  He was being shoved by the American forces clean out of Africa and Sicily, on to Italy then for the next 18 months we fought and pushed north thru Naples, Caserta, Florence, Rome, Cassino, Anzio and finally they stopped us at Bolonga.

I’m feeling tired, worn out and cried a lot.  Prayed even more.  I could go on for hours with war stories, but how does one relate to what I felt and went through…I’m ALIVE!

They send me home for R & R, 35 days then. Add 15 more, before returning to Fort Dix to be sent back to Italy on May 2, 1945.

May 1st I have strep throat and now in the FT Dix Hospital for 26 days. “V” “E” Day and the fellas on the ship return to port in New York, are released and sent home. “Discharge”.

I finally do get out of the hospital and finally on June 10. 1945 I am discharged. “Free At Last” Quoted M. L. King “Free at Last”

Back in Duluth, I convince my dad to make a trip to L.A. having sisters and brothers out there.  I feel elated, back in civilian clothes.

I apply and obtain a job with Materials and Research Dept of the Div. of Highways State of California. (1945-1950) It feels good to make new friends as the Highway program is starting and I feel I can make a career with the civil service, since no Hollywood producers have discovered me!

In 1950 I transferred to the Construction Branch and will remain in that Dept. for the next 32 years.  In between I find time to join the California 40 Armed Division of the National Guards and spend the next 14 ½ years then retiring with a pension.

As I look back over my life I say, “If I had the chance to change my life style would I do it? Not for all the money in the world.” I can recall my travels, my multitude of friends I have encountered, the good times, the bad times, the happy times and the sad times.

I had 40 wonderful years with my lovely wife who passed away in ’89. A lovely daughter and son in law with 2 teenagers.  A wonderful son and daughter in law with 2 young kids.

I have 6 sisters 1 brother (2 older have passed away) many nieces and nephews, aunts and cousins.

I have a very very lovely lady friend and companion, including her children.

I am contented, I am happy.   I have a couple of diseases, put on the back burners.

I think I’ve passed the first step. Now the happy tears can flow…Al Bergher

As you might imagine…this was a powerful day for me.  This is the first time I’ve read this. My father was a great dad, although we did battle I was a willful kid. I rarely got the last word, tried as I would.

He took very good care of my mom while she was ill.  He developed empathy and a kindness that I didn’t see when I was younger. Sadly, 1 ½ years after writing his story, he too passed away from Cancer.

A dad leaves an immeasurable void regardless of the age of their children.  It has been my pleasure to share his story with you and to remember what a great man he was!

On a very happy occasion. May 8, 1971