Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Return of an Olfactory Memory

Raymond Leon Iddings died November 14, 2014 at the age of 93. He grew up on a small farm in Putnam County, Indiana, and, like so many Americans of his generation, joined the army and fought in World War II.

Here’s a passage from his obituary:
His combat experienced forever identified Raymond Iddings as a professional soldier, and left scarred stories that he never told. Daughter Cheryl was recently told a final story while helping him eat some chicken soup. A few weeks after crossing the Rhine, on April 4, 1945 the United States Army liberated the first concentration camp prisoners from Ohrdruf, Germany. The conditions were so appalling that words fail description; the smell of feces and rotting corpses overpowered the senses. General Eisenhower, Patton and Bradley were all sickened during their tour and Eisenhower actually vomited. In his memoirs, Raymond wrote of the “foul odor that blanketed the area,” but said he never entered the camp. While Cheryl recently helped father eat some soup he began to cry and apologized to her for never telling this story before: He then shared with her a memory from that camp . . . a day that he held a spoon of chicken broth for a severely starved prisoner at this camp; the starved man was too weak, the man took a deep breath and died. Raymond told Cheryl that for all these years he repressed this story as his most painful memory — a war memory he was never able to talk about.
Trauma and repression, war and compassion, the great events of history—all brought to the surface by the aroma of chicken soup fed to an elderly man by his loving daughter.

With Raymond Iddings goes a small but infinitely valuable piece of the American experience. We salute him.

No comments: