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Lions Roar : January 2013
WHEN I WAS A LITTLE GIRL, I often wondered if my father could hear my voice. My grandmother, his mother, told me that he was in heaven. She said he was always watching over me, and I believed her. When my grandmother taught me the Lord’s Prayer, I thought it was about him. “My Father, who art in Heaven.” When I prayed, I thought I was talking to my father. My father was a navigator and bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Second World War. He died on October 12, 1944, when his B-24 was shot down on a bombing run over Germany. I learned this when I was older. When I was a child, all I was told was that my father was “missing in action.” So I always had trouble believing he was dead. In thousands of lonely reveries, I imagined his return. These dreams would always end with him taking me into his arms. My disbelief has gone through many stages over the course of my life. As I grew older, I realized that he was probably dead, but I still hoped he could be among the missing but alive. As far as I knew, there was no body, no grave, no tombstone, no place to visit. Without some concrete proof of his death, I could let myself think that perhaps he had amnesia, perhaps he was only lost, perhaps one day he would come and find me. Until I was in my twenties, I continued my childhood prayer to him: “Please come back. Please come back.” I was in my forties when I finally learned what had happened. I visited my father’s sister, who brought out a metal box in which my grandmother had stored old papers. They said my father’s remains had been recovered and were first buried at a prisoner- of-war camp in Germany. Later, I read, the remains were returned to his home state, to Rock Island National Cemetery in Illinois. I was nearly fifty when I found his tombstone there among those of other airmen. In 1952, when I was nine, Elizabeth, the newly crowned Queen of England, sent a book to all American children who had lost parents fighting for Britain in the war. My book reached me at the desert housing project near the Arizona army base where my soldier stepfather was stationed. I didn’t like the book, with its black-and-white photos of war planes. Many of them had crashed. In the book was a letter addressed to me and signed by the Queen. She told me that President Eisenhower had dedicated Please Come Back That was MELODY ERMACHILD CHAVIS’ prayer, until finally she accepted that her father would never return. Then, in a London chapel devoted to American war dead, she realized that maybe he’d been there for her all along. ILLUSTRATIONBYTARAHARDY Melody Ermachild Chavis’ mementos of her father. SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 21