Doug was my father’s older brother by five years. He was killed in France in 1944. It fell to me to be the keeper of the few artifacts of his life: his spurs, his pocket watch, dog tags, casket flag and Purple Heart. Also, my middle name, Douglas, was from him. Doug was in a unit that was guarding Patton’s supply line during the Battle of the Bulge. The Nazis tried to break out to the south and cut Patton’s lines of supply, but failed. Doug was killed in that battle. The first my grandmother knew of his death was that the birthday card she sent him was returned with “deceased” rubber stamped on it. It reached her before the War Department’s telegram. War is not kind.
Doug died eight years before I was born so I never knew him, but I always felt haunted by him. I had his name, and my grandmother would slip and call me “Doug” at times. I think this was part of her grief process. She never really got over his death. My father was a Navy medical corpsman attached to the Marines. He was on the boats headed to Iwo Jima and he would have hit the beach on the first wave. My grandmother had him pulled off the boat on the “sole surviving heir” rule established after the Sullivan brothers were killed. This infuriated my father, but probably saved his life. Odds are that I wouldn’t be here had Doug not died.
It is strange when someone you have never met has such a powerful impact on your life that you feel as if you knew him. And, I am probably the last person on Earth who has any feeling for the reality of his life. He lives only in my meta-memories now since everyone who knew him is gone now. When I stop remembering him, he will be gone. I hope I don’t haunt anyone who hasn’t been born yet, but then I don’t have to. I have a family that I love and friends who I cherish. Doug didn’t get a chance for that. I’m all he has.