Back in Memphis, remembering Mr. Phelan

Folks, this is just a quick note to tell you that if I seem a little detached from the Blogosphere, there’s a reason for it.

My father-in-law died Thursday, and so we gathered up all of our kids and in some cases their kids, and made our way in three cars to Memphis through all that messy winter weather. We got here safely, thank the Lord. I am typing this at that Starbucks I mentioned several weeks ago.

My father-in-law, Walter Joseph Phelan Jr., lived a full and worthwhile life. I was thinking yesterday as we mucked through the ice and snow about some of the far-harsher hardships he endured along the way. He was there in the Ardennes in late 1944, the coldest winter in Europe in a century, when the massive, unexpected German attack came. He was a member of the ill-fated 106th Infantry Division (like Kurt Vonnegut). That means he was right at the point of the German spear, right where it smashed through the Allied lines. A friend fell right beside him in the snow, victim of a bullet he felt was meant for him. If he had been the one it found, I’d never have met my wife, and our children and grandchildren wouldn’t exist.

Like Vonnegut and thousands of others, he was captured and held in a German stalag in the last months of the war, when the Germans didn’t even have enough food for themselves, much less for prisoners. After that experience, he never wanted to go to Europe again, and didn’t.

That’s not much of a eulogy, just a glimpse into a life, but I have to get back to the house now. Fortunately the sun is shining down on the ice now — sort of like when it cleared and allowed Allied air cover to be employed again, too late to help the 106th, but in time for the 101st in Bastogne…

12 thoughts on “Back in Memphis, remembering Mr. Phelan

  1. Steve Gordy

    Brad, our prayers are with your family. My father was a POW for 21 months and suffered frozen feet that awful winter. It’s easy to understand why veterans don’t want to revisit some old memories . . .

  2. bud

    My heartfelt condolences to your wife and your family.

    Sadly, we are losing WW II veterans at a very rapid rate. Soon they will all be gone.

    Today is Frank Buckle’s birthday. Buckles is the last living veteran of WW I. He’s 109. I remember knowing many of them, including my grandfather.

  3. Herb B.

    My father-in-law was a young Navy recruit at Okinawa; he’s 84 now, and thankfully still with us. We’re going to pick up my wife’s folks in IL in a couple of weeks and bring them back here for awhile. I’m looking forward to it; we won’t have them too much longer. Parents always leave a hole when they’re gone. Peace and comfort to you and your family, Brad. Psalm 27:10

  4. Bart Rogers


    Apologize for being late to offer my sincere condolences to your wife, her family, you, and your children. Losing a family member is always sorrowful but we will always have them in our hearts and minds, especially one who was a member of “The Greatest Generation”.

    A very good friend of mine passed away a few years ago and he too went through the horrors of a German stalag. He would talk about his experiences with me when we were alone because he never felt that he did anything other than his duty. He was one of the few whom I truly admired.

    Again, condolences and a safe journey back home for you and your family.

  5. Dianne Chinnes


    Warm thoughts, heartfelt sympathy, and love to you, Juanita, Nell and the all of your family.


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