Portfolio: World War II vet displays late-life heroism in devotion to wife

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Most kids think of their father as a hero. I do, too.

Mine used to tell my sister and me: "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice." He is fair, kind, always a gentleman and always has the correct spelling.

Everyone who knows Norman Rosfeld knows he is proud of his family, his artistic talent and his service to his country during World War II. Now, in the twilight of his life, he is still my hero.

At the tender age of 17, my father proudly enlisted in what was then the Army Air Corps after graduating from South Hills High School. As a young radio operator on a B-29 in the Pacific Theater, his tour of duty took him around the world: Africa, India, Indochina, the Pacific Islands. He was discharged at the end of the war in 1945.

He went on the G.I. Bill to Carnegie Tech, which is where he met my mother. They married and settled in Green Tree.

My father is fond of reminiscing about his military experience. He will tell you that it was among the greatest periods of his life.

He collects military memorabilia and loves to chat with other veterans -- anyone, really -- about his war years. Using maps, medals and photographs, he regales his five grandchildren with tales about places he's been, what he saw, what he learned.

He is proud to wear his "WWII Veteran" hat all over town and is quick to respond to others who thank him for his service.

"Thank you for thanking me," he will say. Like others, he recognizes the sacrifice and the privilege of serving his country. We are proud of him for that.

In recent years, his heroism has been tested once again, as he fights a battle much closer to home.

For the past eight years, he has assumed the role as chief caregiver for my mother, who struggles with dementia. He became cook, housekeeper, nurse and driver, in addition to loving companion.

Very recently we found it necessary to move my mother to an assisted living community. As difficult as this decision was, the person who has handled it best is my 88-year-old father.

He visits my mother most days, taking her for a walk in the sunshine or a visit to the coffee shop. There, they have a Coke and talk to other residents. He greets everyone warmly and is making friends there -- always cheerful and still a nice guy.

One day, while taking their daily stroll, he spotted a baby grand piano in the facility's social room. He took my mother in, sat her down and began to play for her.

Among the many talents of this former commercial artist and art director, my father is a gifted musician. He began playing the piano at a young age, and from his college days to family gatherings his boogie woogie tunes made him the life of the party.

My mother, who loves music, has always been an appreciative audience. But when she became ill, his playing stopped. He just didn't have the time... until recently when he saw that piano.

Before long, he was doing this regularly, playing for my mother and sometimes drawing a crowd. On one recent afternoon a woman stopped by on her way to dinner. She entered the room while he played, and she began waltzing around with a smile on her face.

Groups will sometimes gather and break into song while he hammers out the old standards: "It Had to be You," "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and other music he and my mother grew up with. It is nothing short of magic, the effect his music has.

Some time soon, he hopes to start a piano bar in the social room, where he can continue to bring music to the residents. I'm certain he'll pack 'em in.

Now that's what I call a hero.

Alison Strome of Hampton, a therapist, can be reached at astrome@aol.com.

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