Tribute To A Veteran
When you look up the definition of veteran there are two basic meanings. One is someone who served honorably in a military service and the other is someone who has had a long experience in a particular field. Both of these definitions applied to Dad. He worked almost his entire adult life in the floral industry, which my brother alluded to in our Fathers’ Day Blog, but he also was a Veteran of World War II.
Dad was drafted into the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was 5’6” and weighed a fit 145 lbs when drafted. He served in the Pacific Theater and ending up fighting in the Philippines. The Artillery battery that he was attached to used the 105 Howitzer. He was trained in the US, then shipped out to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii for final training, and then moved into the War theater near Mindanao. While in training, in Hawaii, he became best friends with Toby and Frank. They were training together and would often go with groups to a beach hotel in Hawaii to enjoy the ocean and a sense of tranquillity that they knew would end soon. He talked often of those quieter days on the island of Oahu before entering the war.
He told us many stories about his experiences, some good, some funny, and some frightening. I have always been sure he omitted many stories that he never wanted to re-tell, and to some extent, re-live. It is said that war is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. I believe that that was Dad’s experience as well. His artillery group was moved frequently, sometimes to positions to defend a beach, sometimes to attack an enemy stronghold. He was at times a forward observer
(someone who crosses into enemy territory with a radio and a tall antenna to observe the enemy camps and to direct fire of the 105’s). Most of his funny stories came during those periods of boredom. They included pouring gasoline on duffle bags filled with beer cans using the evaporation of the gas to cool the beer, fishing off the beach with dynamite, and walking through 5-foot tall grass and seeing a King Cobra’s head sticking up a foot over the grass. The effect it had on the squadron leader who was already afraid of snakes was something that always brought a knowing smile to Dad’s face.
His life was threatened twice during the war. Once was on the transport ship going to the Philippines where the convoy was attacked by Japanese planes. A fighter plane was coming in just off the water headed directly towards his part of the ship. Rounds of the anti-aircraft gun pouring into the plane as it advanced. As the plane neared the ship my dad suddenly froze up. His hands locked on the railing in a moment of sheer terror, unable to move. With 100 yards left before it came crashing into the ship, the plane suddenly pulled up, went over the ship and crashed into the sea just beyond where the ship was. The other time was in a personnel carrier called a 6x6 driving down a jungle trail at night. There were 6-10 soldiers riding in the back when suddenly, from the tall grass next to the road, a mine was thrown into the back of the truck. Almost casually, the soldier next to where it landed in the truck picked it up and tossed it out. They all hit the deck as it exploded seconds later.
The friendships developed during those times were strong and unique due to the feeling of going through it together. Frank and Dad and their families remained as close as brothers throughout their entire lives even though Frank lived in Chicago and Dad here in Orlando. Toby never came home. He was killed a few months before the war ended and Dad never forgot or stopped missing the friend he came to love as a brother.
Most Americans during the war held that the Japenese were a hated foe and, in the soldier’s hearts, deserving of whatever harm we could dish out to them. Dad’s attitude was the same for most of the war but it changed suddenly one night. Dad’s company was guarding a mountain road used for enemy truck convoys. One night a large convoy of Japanese trucks was seen coming down the mountain road with their headlights on and easily spotted. Dad’s commander waited until they could see the first truck and the last truck at the same time. He then open fired on both ends of the convoy effectively blocking the rest from escape. The artillery then methodically worked their way from both ends to wipe out the entire convoy. It was seen as a significant strike against the enemy and Dad was awarded a Silver Star for his participation. The day after the destruction of the convoy Dad was assigned to a group of soldiers to clear the road so that it could be used again. No one in the group was prepared to see the carnage displayed as they cleared the road, pushing vehicles and soldiers off the side of the road to the valley below. Dad couldn’t look at all these dead soldiers and not think about all the women and children who would never see their loved ones again. He believed that every one of his fellow soldiers came face to face with the aftermath and horror of war and were forever changed by it. He often stated that he was glad that this engagement was the last of his military career.
Dad went in at 145 lbs and was discharged weighing an emaciated 115 lbs. He suffered from bouts of Malaria. His parents and brother Jim cried when they saw him. Not only from relief that he had made it home but from the toll the war had exacted from him. It took a long time for Dad to regain his complete health. Many of his fellow soldiers suffered as much and more.
Dad faded back into normal society, met Mom, got married, and raised a family; just like most of the other ordinary men who answered the extraordinary call to defend their country. He never forgot nor, I think, ever completely got over his experience.
As we get close to Veterans Day we should all remember the ordinary people who answered an extraordinary call to protect and defend the country that they loved. Some who never come back and some who never get over the horrors of war. It is with profound respect and gratefulness that we extend our thanks to those who have served to protect our rights and privileges of living in America. God Bless All of You.