Monday, May 28, 2012

WAR STORIES




HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We try not to be too political here,so let's not argue wars or where which troops are fighting which other troops.

But on Memorial Day, how can we not think about it?
It crossed my mind to talk about war movies, but then--I thought about my father, at age 18 or so, being sent from high school in Indiana overseas to fight in World War Two. You have to know my Dad is the most thoughtful, artistic, tolerant, poetic, gentle person you could ever met. A musician. A writer. I simply cannot picture him with a weapon, a member of the army infantry fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and taken prisoner and marched barefoot through the snow and put in a Nazi prison camp. But that's what happened.
He got a purple heart. My little dad.

If I've told you this story, forgive me. But on Memorial Day, the goal is to remember. So it's important to tell and re-tell and make sure the memories aren't lost.

A few years ago, Dad and his wife Juliet (now both retired from the foreign service) rented a house, as usual, in western Massachusetts (near Tanglewood) for part of the summer. Jonathan and I went to visit for awhile. And in the library of the house they rented, Dad found a tattered and worn book of poetry, one of those paperback Untermeyer anthologies.

He pulled it out of the shelf, and tears came to his eyes.

"What's wrong?" I asked.
"This is the same edition I carried with me throughout the war," he said. (He NEVER talks about the war. Won't.)
"You carried a book of poetry in the war?" I was trying to figure that out.
"Yes," he said. "To remind myself there is beauty in the world."


So. War stories. Was anyone in your family in the war? Any war? How did that change them--or you?  If not--do you watch war movies? Why?

JAN BROGAN   Wow, Hank. That is a beautiful story. And being a WWII buff, who - mostly because of my husband - has seen every bit of footage on WWII - I am unbelievably impressed. I even wrote my sixth grade report on the Battle of the Bulge, and seen over and over the footage of the army making their way through France to the battle and thought what must it have been like, sleeping in the snow and waking up to do battle?


HANK: I know. I think about it all the time.

JAN: Anyway, both my parents were in WWII. My father an Army captain, my mother a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. My mother took care of the men returning from the Pacific with TB and other infectious diseases.  Because she didn't talk about her service at all, I didn't realize how important it was to her until she was about to die. Then as she divvied up her charitable contributions it all had to go the veterans. I keep her dog tags in my jewelry box and consider it her finest piece of jewelry.

RHYS BOWEN: My dad was in World War II, in the desert fighting Rommel. He fought at El Alamein, but from what he told us, he actually enjoyed some things about it--the camaraderie of men together. He was a great athlete and played cricket for his batallion. He also picked up a lot of Arabic and years later he and my mother went on holiday to Tunisia and the hotel staff were amazed he could speak to them. They got wonderful service.

My brother was in a very different sort of war. In the RAF he was sent to Aden, South Yemen. Very like Iraq today. They'd go out on patrol and a sniper would kill the man in front of him. Not good for the nerves. Both he and my dad are gentle people. My brother is about to be ordained an Anglican priest!

War is so stupid. As the song says "When will they ever learn?"

DEBORAH CROMBIE: What lovely stories, Jan and Hank. And Rhys, there always seemed something slightly glamorous about the British campaign in North Africa--maybe it was the movies...

My father was in his mid-thirties when the US entered WWII, with a business and a toddler (my older brother) so wasn't called up. And he was such a gentle man--I think the experience would have destroyed him if he'd survived.

HANK: Debs, there's a line for a book...
    
DEBS: I had two uncles who served in the Navy. One was stationed in New Zealand for at least part of the war, and could never afterwards bear the smell of lamb. Neither of them ever talked about their wars.

I've been fascinated since I was a child (Anglophile that I am) by the British experiences in WWI and WWII, particularly as they affected the British at home. One of my books centers around children who were evacuated from London during the Blitz, another around a Jewish couple who come to London as refugees from Nazi Germany.

LUCY BURDETTE: I hate war and I won't watch war movies and I cannot imagine psychologically surviving the horror of any of it. But I make myself watch the honor roll of soldiers that the PBS Newshour runs at the end of their program every week--so I don't forget that the deaths we continue to hear about are real people with real families.

All that said, my father was also a WWII veteran. (That's him, above, in Wales.) We have paperwork that documents how he went down to the recruiting station in New Jersey and signed up. But then his mother (a VERY strong personality), marched him back down to rescind his application. He signed up again the following year (1943?) and served in the Army corps of engineers in England and France. He was a kindhearted peace-loving guy too, but I have the impression that this was one of the most powerful experiences of his life. He always felt connected to his fellow soldiers--they had yearly reunions until they got too old to travel. And one of them hobbled up to visit him in the nursing facility just months before he died (in January.) When he sat down to hand write his memoirs, most of the vignettes were about the war--so much for our perspective that we took top honors! We haven't had time to sort through all that stuff, but I look forward to trying to understand how the war affected him.


HALLIE EPHRON: These are wonderful stories. My dad never served -- I think it was because he'd had rheumatic fever as a kid, or maybe it was flat feet. I wish he was around to ask. My husband's father worked in a Providence shipyard for his service, and came away with no fond memories of Providence and a lifelong aversion to cold.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: My father was 19 and spent the war in Alaska (probably watching for Russians like you-know-who.)He never talked too much about those years. He was on Adak in the Aleutians. Funnily enough I've since learned that Earlene Fowler's father was there as was Dashiell Hammett who wrote a newsletter for the men. There's a website devoted to the men and women who spent the war there.

As it happens, an elderly relative just passed away and one of the things that came to me in a box filled with old snapshots and letters were my father's dogtags. That's a Saint Theresa medal.  

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Lucy, I am a member of "one of those families" you mentioned. My father, Lt. Melvin Spencer, served during a different conflict - the Cold War. He was an Air Force pilot, assigned to a Strategic Air Command bomber wing at Plattsburgh AFB when he met and married my mother, who was a coed at the State University there.


Tensions between the USSR and the United States were at a peak in the early 60's, and the USAF was at the front line of defense. Bombers stood fueled and ready on the flight line apron round the clock, with crews rotating in and out of specially connected staging areas so that the enormous planes could be airborne and on their way to Russia within a matter of minutes. The day I was born my father was in "the bullpen." His replacement pilot arrived in time for him to get to the base hospital, but he was still in full fight gear the first time he held his baby girl.


The crews trained constantly over the huge, sparsely populated reaches of the Adirondack mountains, making practice bombing runs. About six months after I was born, my father suited up and left for a pre-dawn training flight. He never returned. One of the B-48's systems - radio? Electrical? - malfunctioned. Flying in the dark, in a snowstorm, the four-man crew never realized they were below altitude. The remains of the ship were found strewn across the face of Mount Wright, the second highest peak in the Adirondacks. This is the memorial placed at the crash site.

I think it's enormously important to be aware to the cost of war to those who pay the ultimate price. But it's also important to remember that for every name on the casualty list, there are a score of others whose lives will never be the same - parents and siblings, husbands or wives, children and friends.



HANK: Julia. I am speechless. And So grateful to know you all.  So what about you, Reds? War stories? This is the day to tell them...and to say thank you.

68 comments:

Anonymous said...

This has been the most moving post at Jungle Red that I ever recall reading. Thank you all so much for sharing your lives with us.

And if you aren't my friend on Facebook and didn't see my post there, I think you'll find this piece from CBS Sunday Morning pretty amazing as it has to do with one very special veteran and one very special writer:

A War Hero's Unbroken Bond


Thanks.
--Marjorie of Connecticut

Karen in Ohio said...

All my uncles served; one was a prisoner of war in WWII, for a year. My favorite cousin is a direct result of his joyful reunion with my aunt, upon his return to Ohio.

Another uncle served in Korea. We only spoke about his time there once, but he was still so, so bitter about his need to make such difficult choices. At the time we were in the early stages of the war in Afghanistan, and Uncle Ray was talking about how similar fighting conditions were for them in Korea, where everyone dressed the same, military and civilian alike, with a lot of crossover. Our military was being criticized for shooting civilians, but Uncle Ray pointed out that it was impossible to tell. It still haunted him, 40 years later, the need to make those split-second, life-or-death decisions.

War is almost always about someone's greed. I want what you have, pretty simple.

Lucy Burdette said...

Amazing stories. Julia, that's exactly the kind of thing I try to keep in my mind, if only for a moment. The folks who lost each of those soldiers have their lives changed in huge ways...forever.

Terry Ambrose said...

A moving and fitting post for this Memorial Day. Thank you all for sharing. My dad flew in WWII as part of a bomber crew and, like some of the others mentioned here, never really talked about the war. Just the other day, the movie about the Memphis Belle was on TV. No matter how accurate that movie was, it reminded me of the conditions men fought under in those days. Whether at sea, in the air, or on the ground, they lived or died based on how they supported each other and so you can see how those close-knit ties developed.

Jack Getze said...

Billy was the oldest, the street-smart kid who kept us out of trouble. After high school, while the rest of us scrambled to avoid Vietnam with college or a reserve unit, Billy joined the Army to serve his country. He wrote us funny letters from training, asked us to wish him luck, but on the day he landed in Saigon, his troop truck ran over a land mine. I cried when I found his name on the memorial in Washington a few years ago. For Billy, yes, but also for the other boys with exactly the same name. It shocked me. So many young men and women.

Jan Brogan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jan Brogan said...

Terry,

Those bombing missions had such high fatalities, it must have been really hard for your father losing so many friends.

Karen, where was your uncle a prisoner? I've read some about captives of Japanese camps, and how horrific they were, but have never read of German camps and always wondered about the German military prison camps, given the atrocities of the work and concentration camps.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Thank you Marjorie...going to the Sunday Morning piece asap. Yes, I agree...it started out as just--telling the stories. Then it became something else.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh Karen, the idea of uniforms--and under the uniforms everyone is the same. And then--if the uniforms are the same--it must be staggeringly terrible.

There was a story on 60 Minutes last night, did you see it? About a young man so haunted by his war experiences that he sleepwalks, screaming. And it was that he carried his wounded comrade for a mile--but the man still died. I didn't do enough, he said.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Thanks, Terry. Can you even imagine how terrifying that was? And it makes us think of our fathers in a different way, doesn't it?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

AAH, JAck, yes. Exactly. That's a real person whose name is there. Someone you knew. The wall is so profound, all those namaes and all those real lives.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Jan, my father was in a German prison camp. He was there with Kurt Vonnegut, actually, a high school pal. He says they traded their cigarettes for writing paper.

Dad still will not really talk about it. But he told me once he was lucky to be Jewish, because the Nazis didn't want the German people to think Jews were fighting, so they kept him inside the camp instead of sending him outside into the freezing winter to "Work." That's where so many prisoners died.

Demeter said...

I served in the medical corps at Andrews AFB at the end of the Vietnam War, when the POWs finally came home. Our unit treated many soldiers who had been imprisoned in Hanoi Hilton. The extent of their suffering was unimaginable. All American should walk through the war memorials in DC.....not in reverence to war, but to honor the fallen....and to recognize the cost of our freedoms and liberties. The price is staggering.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Thank you, Demeter. And we thank you for your service as well...

Nichole Bernier said...

Such a moving and perfect post for the day. I'm thinking today of my grandfather, who was on the last ship to be torpedoed by a U-boat in WW2 -- the day *after* the cease fire, right off the coast of Rhode Island.

He was a radio officer in the merchant marines, and made it to a lifeboat along with 35 others before it sank. He brought his old black-box Underwood typewriter with him, which the captain assumed contained official ship communications. When he learned it was just Sparky's own typewriter he didn't want to lose, my grandfather told me he said, "I ought to throw you overboard myself!"

After my grandfather died the Smithsonian wanted it, but he left it to me because I was on the way to becoming a writer. My first novel is being published next Tuesday. And the typewriter sits on an end table beside my desk.

Deb said...

What a wonderful post today. Thank you all for sharing, and for reminding us what Memorial Day is about. You feel it in Britain on Remembrance Day, and the weeks leading up to it, when everyone wears their poppies. But here I think it's so easy to forget.

I watched the Memorial Day Concert on PBS last night. It was so fitting. Moving and beautiful.

Laura DiSilverio said...

Hi Reds,
What a moving post. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to remember. My father flew F-105/Thunderchiefs in Vietnam and never talked about it, except, a little, with my husband. My dad died on Memorial Day four years ago.

I spent twenty years in the Air Force, including seven months based out of Thailand following up on reports of live sightings of POWs in Vietnam. I feel both guilty and lucky that I was never called to serve in an active war zone.

My brother flew as a mission commander on AWACS and Joint Stars aircraft in the current Gulf crisis and his wife is an Air Force lawyer.

My best husband is retiring this summer after 30 years in the Air Force Reserves during which time he served with the United Nations monitoring Iraqi WMD facilities between the Gulf wars, and with a Marine unit based out of Baghdad in 2003.

My prayers are with the families of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have sacrificed their lives for our freedoms, and with those who are still serving in harm's way.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Nichole--so wonderful to see you here. And what a treasure of a story! HOw proud he would be of you..and The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D-- another story of incredible bravery.

Reds, you can find out more at http://www.nicholebernier.com/

And we hope Nichole will come visit with a guest blog soon!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Laura, ah. You make me want to stand and salute. This days blog has taken on such a power.

Reine said...

Hank, thank you for this perfect way to start Memorial Day.

My father was lured out of BC High in Boston by a Navy recruiter visiting the school. He and the school promised that any boy, who was at least 16 years old and had enough credits to graduate the following June, would receive a high school diploma from the school. The condition was that they join, not the US Navy, but the war effortin Russia -- prior to the US declaring war

Their task was to was get explosives and other supplies past the German U Boats in the North Atlantic and ship them from the US, Canada, Iceland, and Scotland to Murmansk. His ship was torpedoed twice, but he and the crew, and the ship, all survived. They had one gun. It was mounted on the ship's deck. They took turns shooting at German planes. These high school boys from B C and Dorchester High, and a lot of highs...

A few years ago Russia honored these men with a ceremony and a memorial. They are honored by Canada for their special effort.The UK honors them every year in Scotland. Iceland honors them. The United States has a memorial for the US Navy Armed Guard to the Merchant Marine, but not the Merchant Marine. The city of Camden, NJ and the Merchant Marine Academy have memorials for the Merchant Mariners of WWII. Until recently, since passage of the Combat Merchant Mariners Veterans Benefits Act of 2005, the US denied these veterans GI benefits - after most had already died - 60 years after the war ended.

Thank you for this opportunity to join Canada, Iceland, the UK, Russia, and the City of Camden, NJ in remembering the US Merchant Marine effort of WWII, 1:26 mariners lost in the North Atlantic.

Leslie Budewitz said...

What powerful stories. Julia, we forget sometimes about the non-combat deaths that are an inevitable part of service, and so deeply affecting.

My father was a ball turret or belly gunner on a B-17 (think Memphis Belle), struck over Germany and unable to get back to England. They landed in Switzerland and spent the last 10 months of the year "interned" there -- as a neutral country, Switzerland couldn't let anyone go, and had to maintain separate camps. By June 1944 when he landed, there were more than 2,000 American enlisted men alone. Not all bread and cheese, he used to say, but was so grateful to make it there safely -- he thanked the navigator to his dying day.

Joan Emerson said...

Beginning when our children were not yet even old enough to toddle, every Memorial Day in our family was always about spending the Saturday before walking through the cemetery placing American flags beside the markers of every military service member laid to rest in that place. Then, on Memorial Day, we'd attend services at the cemetery.

The girls --- who were awesome at finding all the markers [often sadly overgrown and covered with grass] and placing flags --- grew up to follow in their Dad's military footsteps . . . the oldest an Air Force Academy graduate; the youngest about to be deployed with the Navy, no doubt soon to be in the midst of our current conflagration.

Placing flags and attending services may not seem like much, but to our family it was an important way to honor, to remember, to say, “Thank you . . . neither you nor your service are forgotten.”

Leslie Budewitz said...

Reine, I had never about Americans being sent to Russia before we entered the war. Thanks for telling that story.

Like your father and the other mariners, the Swiss and Swedish internees -- POWs under international law -- were not treated as prisoners under American law and were denied benefits. In the 1980s, as they aged and some needed care for war injuries, they founded the Swiss Internees Assn and fought, successfully, for benefits. There weren't even records listing the internees -- they had to petition individually for a records review to get any benefits.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH, Reine, I didn't know that either, about the war effort in Russia. Incredible. ANd when you think about HOW YOUNG they were.

Leslie, did he tell you stories? I always think of Catch 22.

Joan, you must be incredibly proud.

I am reading these stories, over and over...

Deb Romano said...

Today's post and comments bring many tears to my eyes. It's really going to be hard for me to organize my thoughts to respond.

My dad served in the Navy during WW II, in the Pacific. He participated in many of the crucial battles. He died in 1978 when he was 55 years old. Years after he died I realized that nearly all of his stories were about the amusing things that happened. NO actual War Stories. When I was a sophomore in HS in the 60, studying World History I asked him some specific questions about serving in the Pacific. He began to answer my questions, then suddenly burst into tears and ran from the room.

Dad had a friend from the Navy that he was particularly close to. When I was a child his friend sometimes came to CT from MA with his wife to visit us, but they mostly kept in touch through my mom and the friend's wife via Christmas letters. On the occasions when they visited in my childhood, the two guys reminisced about amusing incidents - no actual War Stories.

Dad never wanted to join any kind of veteran organization. His atttude was prettty much that the war was in the past and he wanted to concentrate on his life with his family. A few years ago one of my aunts, who was a child when my dad was in the Navy, told me that when he first got out of the service he would wake up in the middle of the night screaming. They would run to him to check on him and he would be shaking and drenched in perspiration. This was the first time that I ever heard that story. One of my sisters has since said that our mom told her that this went on for the first five years of their marriage - they got married a few months after Dad got out of the service. I am the oldest but I have no recollection of Dad's night terrors.

A good portion of my job involves interacting with wartime veterans. A couple of years ago I decided that whenever I have the time I will ask Navy WW II vets about where they served, what ships they were on, etc. I really want to understand as much as possible about how Dad's service affected him while there are still WW II vets to talk to. A few weeks ago I met a vet who was in the Pacific around the same time as Dad, but never on the same ship. I told him what kinds of ships Dad was on and the battles that he was involved in. The man said "nobody came out of that unscarred. He must have had some frightening stories to tell." When I said that Dad would not talk about the really serious stuff, he nodded and said that it wasn't surprising; a lot of people couldn't bring themselves to talk about it. "It was horrific, and these were very young men who had nothing in their background to prepare them for what they were going to see." He himself had volunteered to be on that kind of ship ("I was so young that I didn't realize what I might be getting myself into") but was fortunate enough to be assigned to one that didn't see much action.

After both of my parents died,I continued to correspond with the widow of dad's best friend from the Navy. (She has since passed away.) She was going through some of her husband's papers and found some photos of my dad from the war, and she sent them to me. They are of a young man with a haunted expression on his face.

My dad was a very outgoing, aggressive, and gabby sort of person. (SO different from me. If we didn't look so much alike you would never know that we were related!) Only the people who knew him best knew that he was extremely sensitive to people who were suffering. He couldn't stand to know that there was a need he couldn't take care of for someone,and got involved in organizations that helped people in one way or another. I wonder often if it was the war that made him this way,or a combination of the war and his needy childhood (a whole other story; the Navy was going to be his escape route, but then he met my mom while home on leave and decided to be a family man instead!)

My thoughts are all over the place today. Thanks for letting me reminisce about my dad.

Reine said...

Leslie, thank you for your story, as well. I had never heard of "... the Swiss and Swedish internees -- POWs." Amazing.

PK the Bookeemonster said...

More recent story: my brother-in-law is now retired but was career National Guard from Wyoming. He served at one time in Singapore, I believe. Before retiring, he felt he needed to do one more tour "away" as he never went over to Desert Storm or the newer ones because my sister asked him to stay with her and the kids. Last year he spent six months in the international effort in Djibouti. Home now and enjoying his retirement.
These heroes are to be remembered and honored. They serve their countries in times of conflicts in ways most of us never will do and can never comprehend. God bless them.

Karen in Ohio said...

I can't remember if I ever heard where Uncle Red was a POW.

My father-in-law was too old to enlist to fight in WWII, but he was a professional filmmaker with experience in Hollywood (he worked with Disney, and on an Montgomery Clift film), so they took him for their newly formed combat camera unit. His commanding officer? Ronald Reagan.

My brother-in-law, Peter Maslowski, wrote a book about the history of combat camera work, called Armed with Cameras, and it includes a chapter on his dad, Karl. The conditions they worked under were terrifying, since they were unarmed, and they shot film from the gunnery window. But their work made an enormous difference in our ability to win that war.

His long-suffering wife was furious with him. Pete was born while Karl was in either Italy or North Africa.

Jeffrey Marks said...

Two of my grandmother's brothers served in different conflicts. My uncle Nick served in WWII. He never spoke of it, but he returned a different man, probably suffering from PTSD. I remember him coming to my grandmother's house, drunk and crying, probably one of the first times I'd ever seen a man cry. My grandmother always worried about him.

My other uncle came home from Korea where he'd been a war hero, medals and all. He had a lot of trouble readjusting to civilian life. Looking back, he likely wanted to relive the exciting times, where "normal" life was rather boring. He died in a motorcycle crash, years before his time.

My SO served during the last days of the Cold War and was stationed in Germany around the time that the wall came down. I'm treating him well today (I even ran out for a frappe early this morning for him.)

Reine said...

Afterthought:

My father never received his diploma. I don't know if any of the other boys did.

My boyfriend Scott and I went to the Newman School in Boston during the Vietnam War. We were set to graduate in June and plan our future. He was drafted on his birthday and removed from school to the army. He never graduated.

Hallie Ephron said...

I am in awe, today, of everyone's stories.

Deb Romano said...

Reine, I can't remember if I read it somewhere or if a WW II vet told me about it, but I believe that WW II vets who left HS to enlist can apply to receive their diplomas. I have no idea how it works-if it must be done through the individual high schools (which may no longer exist)or if it is done through the VA or in some other way entirely. I am not sure if diplomas are awarded posthumously.

It might be something to look into.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

This is so--I can just imagine, each of us standing and telling the story. It's so important. We need to do this. I am so grateful..and in such hushed awe.

Reine said...

Deb, thank you. You are always so very thoughtful. I'll pass the word along.

Here is a very unusual veterans story about an old family friend of Scout's. Al Bryan was a retired MD who, at the age of about 78, re-enlisted in the army and is now serving.

GBPool said...

My dad's 24th birthday was December 6, 1941. He was married and my mother was pregnant with my brother who was due in mid-July. Married men weren't being drafted at the time. My dad waited until a few weeks after my brother was born,wrapped him up and took him to a bar and bought two beers. He wanted to have at least one drink with his son before he enlisted. He joined the Army Air Corps, became a pilot and ended up serving our country for 20 years.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

GBPool, I am about to cry, envisioning that and all that went into that moment. Thank you.

Reine said...

GBPool... what a vision. I have a picture of that, and it is so moving... omg.

Deb Romano said...

GBPool:

Wow! This is moving on so many levels. And your mom must have been so anxious all during the war.

lil Gluckstern said...

To me, all your writings are the essence of Memorial Day. I knew people who lost their sons during Vietnam, I know and worked with men who were POWs during WW11, and others who served on the Cambodian Border, and in Saigon. Today my friends have grandchildren who don't sleep because of what they endured in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a somber day for me, and it changes as I go through the day, but there are tears in my eyes for all those men and women who gave so much and paid so much as well.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Hank, my dad was a natural storyteller -- but spoke of the war rarely, although like many WWII vets, spoke more freely as he got older. He did talk about Switzerland, and when he and my mother visited Adelboden and Wengen in 1970, they were welcomed fondly by people who remembered "their Americans."

GB, what a story. Makes me teary.

(First word in my captcha is Germany. I kid you not.)

GBPool said...

Deb Romano mentioned that my mom was probably anxious during the war. She told me many, many years later that she never listened to the radio during the war because she didn't want to hear anything that might tell her my dad had died. They were married over 60 years.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

I know..I just tried to tell Jonathan about GB's story ,and couldn't get through it. Started to cry.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Lil, so wonderful to see you here...thank you. Your heart must be so full.

Cindy Silberblatt said...

My uncle, Harold Moore, was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. He lost a leg and part of his shoulder. He never complained about it and even refused to park in the Handicap Spaces for years saying that was for people who needed it.:)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Cindy, that is so--brave. Could he have possibly known my father? I guess...I wouldn't be surprised.

Tammy said...

In some ways I've been little touched by war in my life. My mother's parents met in the war, both officers in Washington D.C. (my grandmother was a graduate of the first officer's school for WAVES), both working in a code room.

My husband's grandfather was a Sea Bee, and spent some time on Okinawa, which I think was responsible for the thrashing and shouting he did in his sleep the rest of his life. But he didn't say much about it, even when asked.

The lesson I see my husband learned from his grandfather and father (and that came through from my grandparents also), is that you do what needs to be done, because it needs to be done. Too often today I know people (our tenants, mostly) who feel they should be rewarded for meeting expectations. But our parents, grandparents, siblings, and you who served ... well, it's shameful there's so little reward for going so far above and beyond what most ask of themselves.

Thank you, every one of you.

(Really, my captcha is "dishonour"?)

Anonymous said...

How wonderful to hear all your stories. Thank you for sharing. Julia, my heart goes out to you. So true, that most people don't consider the ripple effect of tragedy on our soldiers' families.

My family is light on military stories. My dad was another who never talked about his experiences when he served in Korea.

Hank, the poetry book. :) Your Dad is a beautiful soul.

Best to all-
Mary Saums

Mar (aka mar annabelle jacob) said...

.......my sympathy to everyone who lost a family member, friend to any of the wars our country has jumped into and to those who survived physically but had to live with the horrors they saw while at war.

My Daddy never talked about the war except his short stay in hospital in switzerland, I have postcard he sent my grandparents from there.

My cousin was changed forever as he saw his lieutenant and others shot down after their copter got 150ft in air - D and others were injured from schrapnel - no one on copter survived. It changed his personality forever.

He became withdrawn, bought 50 acres and put a house on it and started a furniture making business on his property so he did not have to work around others, noise would sometimes take him down.

He did marry and had 2 adorable little girls but he no longer was the outgoing, gregarious cousin I knew before he went to war

Have friends, schoolmates who were in Nam, they don't talk about it. Was bad enough having to go, but to be treated like they were lepers on return, was too much

still makes me furious how vietnam vets were treated by so many upon their return

they did not ask to go to Nam and have to kill or be killed - HELL OF A CHOICE TO HAVE TO MAKE

I HATE WAR

Mar

Linda Rodriguez said...

What wonderful stories! My grandfather served in WWI. He and some other Choctaw boys were the first codetalkers. (Yes, it started in WWI and many tribes, other than just the Navajo, were involved in the two wars.) My father served in the Navy in the Pacific (signing up when he was 16) in WWII and in Korea and in Vietnam. (He was due to retire, but the Navy classified him as essential personnel so he couldn't.)

My brother was a Green Beret in Vietnam. He needed lots of counseling when he came back in order to fit back into civilian life. My late first husband was a medic in Vietnam and went through horrible situations. The Viet Cong would ambush a company, then wait for the Hueys to bring in the medics and hit them as they hit the ground to work on the wounded. He was drafted, and he was such a nonviolent man that he never loaded any ammunition into the pistol he carried during his entire time over there. He had horrible nightmares and flashbacks for several years after he got back. I used to sit in our bed in the middle of the night holding him and crooning to him like you would to a child to bring him back to the present time. A lover I had before I met him had also just come back from Vietnam and had terrible PTSD. He had been involved in a My Lai type of action, ordered in, and could not forgive himself for not turning the gun on his officers instead.

My oldest son who had just started college was called up (Army Reserves) for Desert Storm. I would have given anything to keep him home, but he went. and it took him years to pick up the pieces with college and the rest of his life.

On this Memorial Day, I think of the men and women in the wars we are waging now. Whether we are for or against these wars, those people are there because we as a country sent them. So we owe them the best supplies to do their jobs and protect themselves while they are there and top-notch services to deal with the emotional, mental, and physical damage so many of them come home with. We must not try to balance our budget on the backs of our veterans. We owe them better than that.

Joan Emerson said...

Hank:
Yes, I am incredibly proud. My husband served in the Navy, both active duty and reserve, for almost thirty years. When our son went to kindergarten, he was astounded to discover that everyone's dad did not go to the navy base every month!

Mar:
One would think that, as an enlightened citizenry, we could find a better way than armed conflict to assist the citizens of the world who are in need. After all, as the good Captain Kirk once remarked in one of those wonderful message-filled "Star Trek" episodes, "Well, no one wants war."

However, until that enlightened age becomes our reality, we are obligated to both honor and remember the sacrifices made by those who serve. We owe them that . . . . and so much more.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Mary Saums, yes very true. He is.


Tammy--your mothers parents met in the code room? HOw amazing. (There's a wonderful plot for you...) (dishonour? so bizarrely random..)

Linda, I would love to hear his stories.
.
Mar, we love you.

Thank you so much, all of you. Thank you. Next year, I'm going to post this entire thing again. We have to remember.

Reine said...

Thank you again, Hank, Rhys, Deborah, Jan, Lucy, Hallie, Rosemary, Julia... everyone. This was a good Memorial Day. Memories, even bad memories, are good. Other people's memories are good to hear and think about. When we can do it together the sense of purpose helps me to find meaning when it isn't always clear.

Anonymous said...

Linda, your comments are especially moving to me. At the Indian Center in Boston, we used to have a drum of men who were vets. Their songs and playing was truly the heartbeat of the community. Many were dual citizens by treaty, of the US and Canada and chose to serve in the US forces. Some also served Canada.

Reine said...

Oh. That was me, Reine, not Anonymous. Sorry.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks, Reine. It's an amazing thing, but Native Americans, Latinos, and African Americans have always fought and died in numbers much greater than their proportion of the general population. Indians whose tribes had been decimated still fought bravely. Latinos who won major awards for valor came back to be told "No dogs or Mexicans allowed." But still they all always fight and fight bravely and well.

Reine said...

Aho, Linda.

lil Gluckstern said...

Oh Linda, how wrenching. I'm with Mat. I hate war. It doesn't really solve anything, or so it seems. There's always more.

Pat Marinelli said...

Wow, Hank, my Dad was right behind yours in the Battle of the Bulge. I remember Mom saying she got a letter that he hadn’t eaten for days and she and the Grandparents couldn’t eat dinner that night. Dad landed in Normandy in Sept of ’44 (He left 9 days after my twin and I were born) with the 7th Armor Division (commanded a tank) all the way to Berlin. The German he learned as a child, that he didn’t even remember speaking, came back in his head so he was kept as an interpreter and came home in October of ‘45.

My Dad told a lot of stories, some of which I wish I didn’t know, some heartbreaking and some funny. I’ll give you a funny one. His unit pulled a Kelly’s Heroes bank robbery in town in Germany. The Lt. and told them the bills were no good, (they had bushel baskets full tied to the tanks in his squad) so they burned it to make coffee. Later they discovered it was good, but by then there wasn’t much left and they had nowhere to spend it anyway.

My God-son-in-law was killed in a helicopter crash and five and half years ago in Iraq. He left a 40-year-old widow and two girls ages 10 and 13. That was heartbreaking.

A guy I went to school with service in Viet Nam, came back a hero, but was killed a couple of years later in the line of duty as a cop.

I have a nephew-in-law who survived the World Trade Center.

Thanks to all for their service.

AnnOxford said...

Loved everyone's stories! Thanks. My father may have had the shortest military service. He was drafted into the Navy when I was 2 (this was close to the end of the war). We left our apartment and my mother and I went to the lake to live and he went to Michigan to train. A week or so later the war was over and he got to come home. But my father-in-law served in England, and his favorite story was always the time he danced in the canteen with Adele Astaire, Fred's sister. He had no idea who she was until later. He'd never been to a film!

Deb Romano said...

On the lighter side: when my dad returned to the states when the war was over, his first stop was San Francisco. He immediately ran out and treated himself to the drink he had been craving the entire time he was overseas: an all chocolate ice cream soda! (The apple doesn't fall far from the tree!)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Just when I think the stories could not possibly be more heart- breakingly incredible--let me just end the day by saying how honored I am to know you all..

Reine said...

I can't believe I left my uncle Archie out of these stories. He landed at Normandy, too. He went back for the 50th anniversary not long before he died. He was a quiet man, a kind and decent man, a good uncle and dad.

Lynda said...

I can't thank you enough for your stories, all of you. My heart is full to bursting with gratitude.

My maternal and paternal grandfathers served in World Wars One and Two, Grandpa Caldwell staying in the navy until his death in 1960. He was proud that all four of his sons-in-law joined the service for World War One, two of them becoming career Marines. My dad joined the navy and served in the Pacific Theater, landing in Japan just days after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Dad never liked to talk much about his years in the service, and he carried physical scars as well: his right eardrum was destroyed when a shell exploded next to him on deck, and he had a piece of shrapnel in his right shoulder from the time a kamikaze pilot hit the ship.

Uncle Bob, Dad's brother, was a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima, and was the only survivor out of six men when their foxhole was shelled. Pictures of him taken months later show a gaunt, haunted man. He went on to serve in Korea, and was called up during the Cuban Missile Crisis. His son, my cousin Rob, was a Marine who served in Viet Nam and died of brain cancer.

Whenever I see someone wearing a ball cap with a military insignia on it, I introduce myself and say, "I see by your hat that you're a veteran. I'd like to thank you for your sacrifices and your service." It's a great conversation starter, and I let them lead the way. If they want to talk, I listen. I've met some mighty interesting folks this way, and feel blessed to have been able to thank them personally.

Anonymous said...

This is a day late, but think bears telling.

My beloved Uncle Arthur was an infantryman who fought in Battle of the Bulge, also. When Pres. Clinton spoke at D-Day ceremonies during his tenure, he said "When these men were young, they saved the world" - there were the formerly young men, now elderly, some infirm, remembering their comrades.
A few years ago, my Uncle Arthur, still living in hometown, met mgr of his favorite restaurant there. They talked & learned they both served in same Infantry Div., Uncle: WWII, mgr.: Viet Nam.
My Uncle died a bit after that discovery. The restaurant mgr came to his visitation; he stood by Uncle Arthur for a few minutes & then pinned his Army Division pin onto Uncle Arthur's lapel.

Melissa Robbins said...

My grandfather fought in the Med during WW2, bouncing from Sicily,landing in Anzio and traveled up through Italy. During a bad battle where he, as a Private First Class, became the highest ranking soldier, a piece of shrapnel injured his neck. He survived because a fellow soldier, "a Jewish boy," with an injured arm, dragged him to a Jeep that couldn't get any closer due to the rocky terrain.

I grew up listening to his war stories, but no one bothered to write them down until I had to interview him for my Social Studies class. Got an A+!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH, these are so wonderful--touching,and important, and I am so honored to hear them.Thank you thank you thank you...

Jody said...

My mother's brothers served in WWII. One in the Pacific and the other in the European theater.
One memory that stands out for me is playing the Colonel Bogie march in HS band. That's the tune from Bridge in the River Kwai for those of you who don't know. Our school superintendent stopped by while we were playing. He told us he remembered marching & whistling that tune while he was a prisoner of war of the Japanese.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

How heart-stopping--to realize the difference in how we'd hear that tune--and how he heard it. .