Today was Veterans Day, and I’ve found myself thinking about my father, who served in the 11th Armored Division of General George Patton’s Third Army during World War II. One of my most treasured possessions is a portrait of him that was done (for a pack of cigarettes, as I recall my father telling the story) by an Austrian artist named Theodor Detter sometime just following my father’s involvement in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at nearby Mauthausen, Austria, on 5 May 1945.
An inscription in pencil on the reverse of the painting, which was done on plywood, reads as follows: “Ich freue mich sehr, Ihr Bild gemalt zu haben; bleiben Sie bitte mir weiter gut gesinnt. Ihr Theo Detter. Gmunden, Esplanade 6″ (“I’m very happy to have painted your portrait; please continue to think well of me in the future. Yours, Theo Detter. Gmunden, Esplanade 6″).
Beneath Theo Detter’s inscription is a separate passage, in pen, which reads “Dear Danny, On this your fourth birthday, I give you one of my prize possessions. I hope you will take good care of it. Love, Grandma Peterson. Jan. 13, 1957.” My grandmother, born Synneve Søgnesand Iversen in Jølster, Norway, died not quite eighteen months later.
Finally, in connection with Veterans Day, it would be not at all inappropriate to read this article (brought to my attention by my friend Bob Lavender) about a military hero who gave his life defending his country and his men in Afghanistan last September. The press pays scarcely any attention to such stories. Shame on them.