David Kiska Korean War veteran Lorain, Ohio


How a mom’s small gesture brought big smiles to a war zone in Korea... for a cherished moment

30 - Lorain, OH

When I was a kid in the 1970s and would climb in the car with my dad to go to the hardware store, the butcher shop or a ballgame, I’d often ask him to tell me stories about fighting in the Korean War. He’d describe the frigid winter weather and rough terrain in vivid detail. He’d tell me about the simple joy of a beer on a rare summer day away from battle. I was riveted when he’d describe how he was able to hear and recognize the difference between incoming and outgoing artillery crisscrossing even though the battle sounded like (as he described it) the explosive finale to the loudest fireworks display you’ve ever heard when the white-hot flashes explode dozens at a time. But in war, it was relentless all night long and the shells were real.

As a teenager, when I learned in school that more than 36,000 American forces, or more than 12,000 of our troops were killed each year in just three years of war, I’d ask him how he was able to tell some stories that made him smile considering the anguish.

As I got older, I realized he wasn’t going to tell his little boy the harsh reality and gut-wrenching stories that can weigh heavily on someone who fought in the Korean War, or any war. He’d often say to me and others, “We had a job to do.” But here’s the one story he always liked telling me the most.

His mom, Mary Agnes Kiska, who was my grandmother, sent him a large cylinder of fresh salami to Korea from a butcher shop by the steel plant in Lorain, Ohio near Cleveland. That meant when my dad, her 19-year-old son, David Kiska, opened the package sent from back home to a war zone, the salami was covered with a layer of mold after being sent 8,000 miles in 1951. But all was not lost.

As the guys gathered around watching him as he leaned against his army tank looking at what he saw as a treasure from home, they must've been waiting for him to throw it away. But he knew why his mom sent salami, because all that salt would make the salami last even after taking weeks to be shipped and then delivered to the other side of the world.

So, he reached for his army-issued pocketknife and began scraping away the mold, revealing a perfectly protected hunk of salami. He said it smelled delicious, as if he were suddenly back in his hometown butcher shop.

He cut the salami into pieces and passed them around. He said it was extra delicious because they were otherwise given canned food left over and dated from World War II. My dad would describe to me how they were smiling, laughing and talking about home.

For a moment, their much-needed break from the brutality of the front lines was made extra special by a simple yet wise surprise gesture sent from a mom to her son and other troops.

Soon, they'd return to those hellish battles.

In my 20s, one day after my dad and I golfed, we were having a cold beer and making salami sandwiches. Maybe that was part of the reason he finally opened up out of the blue and told me about some tough-to-hear stories about fierce fighting. As I sat and listened, it hit me. Now that he considers me a man, it was okay for him to tell me some of what he saw.

I’m sure those of you who fought in war or in a battle zone have similar deeply ingrained harrowing stories.

When I was a kid, I can remember my dad occasionally making stressful noises in his sleep. My mom told me he was dreaming about someone breaking into our home and he was fighting them to protect us.

Years later, when I was in high school, she told me he was actually and occasionally having nightmares about the war, and friends he lost there.

But what was his answer to my question when I was a kid? “Dad, how are you able to tell some stories that make you smile when you look back at the war?” He told me, "Eventually, you try to forget about the bad and think of the good times together, and the smiles that you had.”

As the years went by, it was around 1990 when I was driving, and a song was on the radio.
The singer wrote a line that was similar to what my dad said to me, and the singer added another beautiful line.
"We’ll forget about the bad, think only of all the laughs that we had…AND OUR LOVE WILL BE STRONG."

On September 2, 2022, my dad passed away peacefully watching golf on TV with me shortly before his 90th birthday.
I think of him so much. I tell people he was a strong yet gentle dad, and I think about all of the laughs that we had, and our love is strong.

Paul Kiska
Cleveland, Ohio

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