The Hidden Legacy of World War II by Carol Schultz Vento

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MWSA Review

In Chapter Ten of Carol Schultz Vento's book, The Hidden Legacy of World War II: A Daughter's Journey of Discovery, there's a poem by Carbon Leaf and a quote from C.S. Lewis -- both exploring a sobering thought, "I thought I was the only one."

Carol Vento is the daughter of Arthur "Dutch" Schultz, a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne who saw the worst of the fighting in Europe and who became known to the world through the work of historians Conelius Ryan and Stephen Ambrose. Like many of us born to combat veterans in the late 1940s, Carol knew that Tom Brokaw's idealistic description of the "Greatest Generation" wasn't true for many of the war-weary soldiers who came home in 1945. She knew it because she saw how her much-adored father suffered - and how his traumas impacted her life and that of her mother and sister.

The lively teenaged boy who Carol's mother Mitzi knew before he went to war in 1942 did not return. The Dutch Schultz who she married in December of 1945 was anxious, eager to start a family of his own -- and a fledgling alcoholic. His nightmares crowded out the joy of their honeymoon and confused his young bride. She left him only to discover a few weeks later that she was pregnant, prompting her return to the marriage. They tried so hard to be happy -- but like many other young families in those days, life was complicated.

Carol describes her father's struggle to find work -- afterall, what had he done during the war that translated to business in Philadelphia? To support them, Dutch went back into the Army -- but Mitzi, the daughter of Italian imigrants who valued family togetherness, didn't want the nomadic life of a military wife. She returned to Pennsylvania -- and eventually, Dutch did too. Carol writes about the times that her father was with them -- and about the times he didn't come home. He drank. He lost jobs. He overextended his finances. Then -- inevitably, Mitzi and Dutch divorced. The passion that saw them through the war years wasn't enough to sustain their relationship in peacetime.

While researching this powerful book, Carol Vento found psychological material that wasn't available in the 1950s and 60s when she was growing up with a traumatized father and a fractured family. No one knew what to do with men who couldn't hold down a job, who startled when a car backfired, who wouldn't sit with their backs to windows -- who tried to smother ugly memories with work or booze or women -- or violence. Over the course of her adult relationship with Dutch, Carol struggled to accept and love him -- warts and all. But what was this condition with no name that tormented him and destroyed their family? Why was he so sad sometimes? Why did little things enrage him? Why did he withdraw emotionally from her for weeks or months -- and then chastise her for abandoning him? Why? Carol wondered if she had been born to a different man - a Dutch Schultz who had never jumped out of a plane into enemy territory -- would she be a different person too? Was her father's emotional fragility catchy? In searching for the answers to those questions, she found others like her -- with stories of their own. Carol was not the only one!

As a child of a World War II combat veteran myself, I did think I was the only one to catch my father, gun in hand, "guarding" our house in the middle of the night. I thought I was the only one compelled to cower below the picture window lest the "Japs" shoot us in the middle of 1950s suburbia. I knew I was the only kid whose daddy drove his car off a cliff into the branches of a tree and then disentangled himself and staggered home -- still so drunk he could hardly stand. And surely, I was the only twelve-year-old to hold a tough Marine, while he sobbed into my shoulder terrible stories about those damned caves on Iwo. Years later, I chose a life partner whose father was too young for World War I and too old for World War II. My husband grew up hearing about how to grow vegetables and how to fix trucks -- not about young boys dying on a black beach. When he was drafted during the Vietnam War, I went to pieces. I couldn't bear to see the things in his eyes that I saw in my dad's.

Carol Vento found "boomers" with shockingly similar experiences. They had kept quiet about them -- as was proper in those days -- and like me, they are finally talking and writing about those sad, secret times. Carol describes us with the clarity of one who has been there. In many of our families, the roles of parent and child were sometimes reversed. Some of us left home early - compelled by circumstance and bewilderment. We took refuge in achievement -- or rebellion. We questioned the societal beliefs of parents who were clearly not happy. And we felt the pressure of their fears even if we didn't understand them. 

The Hidden Legacy of World War II is intense, scholarly -- and passionate. I read it in a single afternoon - chewing my lower lip and muttering to myself. Twice I had to wipe tears off my cheek -- once when Carol describes the loss of her younger sister and again, in a strange deja vu fugue -- when she tells a story about Dutch's long-lost paratrooper boots.

As a species, we are wired to survive -- but survival has a price. War leaves wounds that are slow to heal and often fester. As for those of us who are now in our 60s and who dealt with the infection all of our lives, Carol's work explains a lot but changes nothing. While it's comforting to know that there are others out there who grew up with sorrow and crazy, it's heartbreaking too. No one should know what that feels like. I have to hope that the door Carol dared open will prompt new studies to help families deal with veterans who are in trouble -- and help their children as well.

Reviewed by: Joyce Faulkner (2012)

Author's Synopsis

Daughters, fathers and war – three words seldom used together. In The Hidden Legacy of World War II: A Daughter’s Journey of Discovery, Carol Schultz Vento weaves life with her paratrooper father into the larger narrative of World War II and the homecoming of the Greatest Generation. The book describes the seldom told story of how the war trauma of World War II impacted one family. This personal story is combined with the author’s thorough research and investigation of the reality for those World War II veterans who could not forget the horrors of war. This nonfiction work fills in the missing pieces of the commonly accepted societal view of World War II veterans as stoic and unwavering, a true but incomplete portrait of that generation of warrior.