veterans day 2010

November 12, 2010

Of course Kurt Vonnegut’s birthday is on Veterans Day. I’d never put that together until now. Wow.

Kurt Vonnegut went to Shortridge High School, the same high school my dad went to, but Dad is 4 years younger than KV so they didn’t really know each other. I’ve heard a family story, though, that KV might have based a character in one of his books on an older cousin of Dad’s, named Mig. It’s plausible and I imagine Mig cut quite the figure in her high school days. Listening to KV give interviews in the last¬† couple years of his life always made me thing of Dad. I don’t know if it was something in his voice and his tone or his humor and his dark perspective, or all of the above. There was definitely some old veteran thing going on. Or I think there was. I don’t know for sure, of course, but that’s how it seemed and it made me like Kurt Vonnegut disproportionate to liking anything he wrote or anything he said. Happy birthday Kurt Vonnegut. It never feels right to me to say happy Veteran’s Day, but I don’t know what to say instead.¬† Maybe just salute.

Like Kurt Vonnegut, Dad’s cousin LeRoy, or Little Roy as I’ve always heard him called, fought at the Battle of the Bulge. Unlike KV, Little Roy was killed there. It happened after Dad had already shipped out to the Pacific. I’ve tried, but I can’t imagine how Dad must have felt when he heard the news. Little Roy and he were like brothers and I don’t know how Dad could manage that loss while being in combat himself.

Dad served in an artillery battalion in the 1st Marine Division. If you’ve ever heard anyone talk about the “Old Breed” they are talking about the 1st Marines . It’s the most decorated unit of its size in the Corps and its battalions were on the front lines of some of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific, including Peleliu and Okinawa, which is where Dad fought. For a long time I thought Dad fought on Guadalcanal too, but I’m thinking now that I was just confused by the 1st Marine patch he wore on his National Guard uniform.

On Okinawa Dad became a forward observer. All the other observers had been killed and his highers ups were looking for volunteers who could read instruments. Dad said he jumped at the chance. The observer serves as the eyes of the gunners, going out with the infantry and directing artillery fire and close air support onto enemy positions. According to Wikipedia Artillery observers are considered high-priority targets by enemy forces, as they control a great amount of firepower, are within visual range of the enemy, and are often located deep within enemy territory. Dad said he loved the excitement, danger and adventure of it, even though he knows that loving it was bad side effect of war.

I have a box of letters that Dad wrote home to his grandparents and they cover the duration of his enlistment, from the train trip to San Diego, where he went to basic training, to the 35 day voyage back to the states from China, which is where his division was stationed after Japan surrendered. There must be more than 50 letters in that box, but there’s only one letter where Dad talks about being in combat. It’s pretty painful in parts and someone in his family typed it up, made copies and passed around among the clan, as Dad called his family. I’ve got 2 copies and I’ve seen another copy at a cousin’s house.

Dad’s tone is so detached in the letter and at times or in parts, it almost sounds touristy. When I read it I remind myself that he was only 19 and I don’t think he knew how or what to tell his family about what he was experiencing. He’s filtered out all the horrible stuff in all the other letters and I don’t know what got him to turn filter off to write this one. I can guess, but I don’t want to do arm chair analysis right now. What I want to do is include part of that letter here in my blog. I’m so sorry my dad suffered for so long with some of the horrible things he saw and did and I guess I want to witness that for him even though he’s dead now. And I also want to remember that even though we’re in a different war, people are still suffering over the same horrible stuff, which is just insane really and I wish we had it in us to make this insanity stop.

From my dad: One morning we found a woman who had tied her kids to her and then cut her throat. When we found her she was still alive and the kids were screaming and crying. After we got the kids still they were just sobbing instead of screaming. The doctor gave the woman some morphine and they carried her away. She was the worst mess I’ve ever seen. Her hair was stuck in her wound and she was gasping and carrying on and the blood was squirting out of her throat like a fountain. That particular incident upset me more than anything else I saw during the whole shellings.

One day a fellow lost his leg and some other people got hurt which was too bad. The next place was where we got rained out so much I finally gave up trying to stay dry and went around barefoot with just a pair of shorts or nothing on at all. We went through Naha on a rainy day and you could see arms and legs sticking out of buildings. The whole place smelt so bad it nearly knocked you out. There was was one nice little gruesome sight. There was a dead Jap buried underneath mud and water except for his arm. His hand had turned yellow and all the veins stuck out. When we set up outside Naha some sniper would shoot at us when we went to the head, he never hit anybody, but he was harassing to say the least.

1 Comment »

one response to “veterans day 2010”

  1. » veterans day 2012 says:

    […] my Veterans day entry from 2010. Also, thinking of my dad’s friends, who have become my friends, and are who […]

leave a reply