One night in fourth grade my dad brought home a present: a world atlas. It was the biggest book I’d ever seen. I couldn’t stop looking at it. I was lying on the living room floor poring over the map of France when he joined me. Going from left to right, he pointed to a series of dots on the pages. “I was here, here, here, here, here, and here.”

I wish I’d written down the names of those towns, because that was the most he ever shared about his experience in the US Army during World War II.

I wanted to know more, but he wouldn’t answer. I pressed him on one question in particular: “How many Germans did you kill?” He was at the kitchen table, chatting with my mom, when wearily he turned to me and said “one.”

I was incredibly pleased by that answer. Seriously.

I have no idea whether it was true. As best I can tell from snippets I heard from him and other family members, he served under General Omar Bradley, reached the rank of corporal, and had responsibility for a fleet of vehicles. That said, he once joked about being in London before D-Day and staying at a hotel that had an anti-aircraft gun on the roof. He was on the top floor because he had to man the anti-aircraft gun, but then he slept right through an air raid.

I suppose he could have been both a fleet manager and an anti-aircraft gunner. Or he could have been neither. And I suppose that in either role he could have killed a German, or many, or none.

I’m tempted to research his service time. The Awesome Sister still has his uniform, which will doubtless provide many clues. I did learn one thing through the internet: he joined the army the day after his nineteenth birthday. That means he served more than two years and likely matured twenty. He must have come home a very different person — on the inside, anyway.

When I worked at UC Berkeley, I gained a reputation for staying calm in difficult situations. I was not one of those doom-is-nigh risk managers.

People wondered how I did it. Well, here’s something not a lot people know. The whole time I worked at UCB, I had a photo in my desk. I kept it hidden in an envelope and pulled it out only when I needed it.

It was a beat-up, over-exposed photo of my father, rifle slung over his shoulder, crossing a muddy field near one of those tiny dots in France during World War II. The photo reminded me that no matter how bad a day I was having, by the age of twenty he had gone through much, much worse—whether he killed any Germans or not.

He was a good dad and gave me a great start. My thanks to him and to all the other good dads out there.

Jack Goldblatt, circa 1944–45.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.