Saturday, March 26, 2011

Never Nineteen...

My mother loved her nineteenth year - and my father said he was never nineteen. He was drafted and sent to win the war, which he did along with many others, and wanted to get back home and back to living in Liberty, which he had a much deeper appreciation of for his time away.

He kept the M1 bayonet, pistol belt, Japanese Army sabre, some letters and his Ike jacket with patches - and the memories. The last he didn't share much, with me at all until I came back from Vietnam. He was an American farm boy, which meant he could do anything to raise a crop with little or nothing. The US Army in its wisdom trained him to be a combat engineer - and he built things for much of his remaining life so it must have fit him. When he couldn't fly for money (heart attack) he went back to heavy equipment operator skills. His war started after high school graduation. That Senior year he had held a full time shift at the meat packing plant in town, school load and interest in friends and family, his brother was in Africa. His grades weren't that good. He had a major pile up with motorcycles and a bridge that got him to help evacuate the worst wounded riders - and then he collapsed and went into the hospital a bit longer than they did. His admonishment to me as I went off to join the US Army, "You aren't going to like it." and he was right, someone else had total control of Earl and I hadn't been built that way. Probably happened to him, too. He wanted to fly, but had color blindness and didn't know he might have gotten a waiver.

He got the Pacific Theater and early shared memory was that canned pineapple wasn't as good as the real fresh stuff. His first campaign was the Battle of Leyete. Memory shared after my tour in Vietnam, the beach landing was quiet and mostly unopposed, and when night fell upon them, the Japanese did also and they were mostly mad. Early memory shared was of his personal opinion that General Douglas MacArthur wasn't worth the note, and that Dad and many thousands more were on the beach long before he returned for his photo opportunity. Memory shared with my mother was that he had to work under lights and Japanese fire because an officer said that was the way he wanted it done (my father didn't object to the work, or the underfire so much as the attitude and reasoning of the officer). If I were to guess, he was probably with the beach support unit that constructed the stuff to make supplies flow to the troops going inland on the continuing attack - I don't know that, it isn't really clear.

His second campaign was in Okinawa, early shared memory was that he got a jeep and rode out on a mission and visited his cousin Lee Dungey that was in the Marines at the time. Lee was busy and didn't remember it as well as my Dad did, but I am sure it happened while my father was doing something for the Army units. After my war, he talked about April Fools day and Easter and watching the fleet and the attack. Later he talked about the Kamikazi attacks on the shipping still unloading. Some impressions never go away.

I was returned from nineteen months of my first Korean tour, in love and still young and foolish and still didn't know that my father had finished his Pacific tour in Inchon harbor (Korea Liberated!) clearing it and being the Democratic Capitalist presence that kept the Russians north of the 38th Parallel until they could get their wonderful Communist Party established for future unification of the Korean people under the wonders of Stalin's Soviet Stability. He shared that even being from Minnesota and a farmboy, he had never been as cold as he was in Korea. NEVER! He talked about big fires built of fuel cans filled with trash lumber and too many wanting to share the warmth and just still not warm. We took him and my mother to Inchon when they came to visit us in Korea on my last tour there, and he was amazed at the difference in everything, the enterprise and the energy and the fact nothing in the harbor looked the same except the tides.

He returned from the war with his memories and an M1 Carbine in his duffle bag, when he got close enough to landing he started to worry a bit about having it. Saw an Amnesty box and dumped the carbine and did what he wanted to do more than keep the gun, get home to his family and friends. He seemed to have had his priorities right. Years later as I am retiring from the US Army we are on the way to separate at Fort Lewis, Washington, and my father shares a bit more of his military life. Why were we going to Washington? It rains all the time there and is constantly gray, this from his time going through there during the war. When he came to visit in August 1995, having driven across the country from Pennsylvania, visiting family and friends along the way, it was Sunny and Blue skies beautiful. He was happy that we were happy and in our home.


Merlyn said...

your Dad must have shared more about his war than your uncle did with me. But then, you are your Dad's oldest and I was number 3. Years to share their memories were taken from you and me when our fathers died too early.

Earl said...

There are times for things, and sharing somethings isn't ever a priority. Your mother talked about how much your father and all the veterans of his unit opened up on the tour of Italy they went on, she said most of the wives had little idea and they were on the ground which makes a big difference, surrounded by others that had been there with them.

wv thilless, ain't no R(eminissing) in Thrilless.

Old NFO said...

Great family story Earl, through it all, I'm sure he was proud of you!