Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

World War II Memorial in Washington, DC.

Today is the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt said, "Today is a day that will live in infamy". I think he is right, when you think of how many American citizens lost their lives during World War II. The entire death toll of this war was was a staggering 46 million soldiers and civilians. This fact is documented in the book "The Second World War, a complete history" by Martin Gilbert. I've been reading this book for a couple of years now, don't know if I'll ever finish it, but it tells about World War II as it unfolded day by day in the different arenas. The interesting thing about this book is that it documents the movement of my father's unit as they trained and went to war. It practically mentions him by name, as he was in the entourage that supported the commander of their unit.

Many people of my age had parents that served in World War II. I was born while my father was participating in the invasion of Sicily, and ultimately Italy, which was one of the turning points of the war toward the Allies. He came home when I was about 18 months old, because he was diagnosed with a condition that rendered him a hazard for combat--he had epilepsy, which was undiagnosed until he went into the army.

Dad had a few stories from the war, and one was the story of their crossing the Mediterranean Ocean from North Africa to Sicily. They loaded and unloaded the ship via cargo nets. He told of having to hold his bag of supplies, a gun, and his typewriter, as he was the Radar O'Reilly of the company, the clerk, as he climbed the net. As the wind swayed the net back and forth over the frothing sea, he figured he'd lose his grip on the net if he didn't hold on with two hands, so the typewriter went into the briny deep! Something about the way he told that story makes it so clear in my mind that I can remember it to this day.

My uncle also served in WWII, but he was younger, so he had different experiences. He was also in engineering school at Washington U. So he ended up in "ordinance". He and his wife traveled around the country to a lot of different places during the war, I couldn't name them in order, but they were in Casper,WY, the Pacific Northwest, Colorado Springs (I think this was during the war), and ultimately in Alexandria VA. My aunt talked of these places over and over, and I never got the gist of what he was doing. When my aunt died and we were together with Uncle T after her funeral, we asked him to tell the war story from beginning to end. So he told of why they moved so much, ordinance means "bombs", and it ultimately meant "The Bomb". So he was in the arsenals of our bombs and then after "the bomb" was dropped, he was in the team that went to Japan to view the destruction. What an gruesome experience that was! Then he went back to Alexandria to "debrief" after they did the reconnaissance in Japan.

My uncle also served in the Korean War and was promoted to Lt. Col. When he died, they gave him a full military funeral in Arlington National Cemetery, with a 30 piece band, caisson to carry the remains, full 21 gun salute. It was very impressive. We walked behind the horse that carried his remains for about a mile through the cemetery. It was truly a sobering experience. And very beautiful.

We are losing our WWII veterans and they are almost all gone now. One group in my city is organizing entourages to take those WWII vets who are still alive to Washington DC to see the World War II memorial, all expenses paid. I've seen the Memorial, and it is truly impressive and very big. I've seen the Vietnam Wall, that too is impressive. The Korean War memorial is interesting and very different. I hear they are planning a WWI memorial up there.

We need to remember our veterans of all wars, especially the young men and women who are serving today. What ever your political persuasion, thank these folks, they put their lives on the line so that democracy can live on.


MonkeyGirl said...

Thanks for the history lesson. I'm glad that you documented Grandpa's story so that we can share it with our kids.

NV said...

OK. So the brain-sharing IS genetic! What cool stories you have about your family. Wonderful you know this to share with the M&Ms and the triple trouble in Iowa. :-)