WHEN I HEARD the news on Wednesday of Elizabeth Taylor’s death, I didn’t think of the Hollywood star or the two-time Oscar winner, the stunning beauty with the violet eyes or the woman who married eight times, or even the starlet who struggled with addiction and was a crusader in the fight against AIDS.
Rather, I thought of my dad.
He was smitten with Liz.
He never met the Hollywood actress. But he had seen her on a United Service Organizations stage while serving during the Korean Conflict. That was enough for my Minnesota farmer turned-soldier dad to fall for her. Hard. I don’t recall him ever, in his life-time, talking about another actress. He had eyes only for Elizabeth.
His wasn’t an obsession. Nothing like that. It’s just that he seldom talked about his time on the front lines as a foot solider during the Korean War. He told us about the orphans begging for food across barbed wire fences, the sniper (he eventually killed) picking off members of his platoon, watching his buddy blown up the day before he was to return home to the States, the cold and lack of food, the digging into foxholes for protection…and then Elizabeth Taylor, dear, dear Liz.
I expect that the movie star offered a welcome and pleasant diversion for soldiers who faced death on a daily basis.
If my dad was still alive—he died eight years ago at the age of 72—I would ask him about the woman who enamored him with her beauty when she stepped onto Korean soil to entertain the troops. I don’t know details about her USO appearance. I wish I had cared enough to ask him.
I tried to find more information online, but Taylor’s USO tours don’t exactly pop up all over the Internet. She once received the USO Woman of the Year Award and won a USO Merit Award. Otherwise I didn’t find much out there.
And that is dismaying to me. Her time entertaining our servicemen, soldiers like my dad, seems as notable as her roles in Cleopatra or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
For me, Elizabeth Taylor will always be more than just another actress. She will be a reminder of my father, of the young Minnesota soldier who was struck by shrapnel at Heartbreak Ridge in Korea and was awarded the Purple Heart 47 years later. It is his memories of Liz that define her to me, not her beauty, not her accolades, not her anything except the temporary escape she gave my soldier-father nearly 60 years ago from the battlefields of Korea, from the horrors of war.
© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling