Traveling at the Speed of Life column: Grateful
My father was a WWII veteran. He fought in the Pacific in the Navy aboard the USS Zaniah. He died Aug. 10, 2016. He is still my hero.
When he was alive, we talked about his experience in the Pacific from time to time, but I don't recall it ever being in great detail, not the action part anyway. I have his photo album from that time in his life. In it is a letter from his Commanding Officer Henry Mayfield written Sept. 2, 1945, V-J Day.
In his letter Mayfield wrote, "Through the Grace of God and Zaniah luck we hung on and repaired the other fellow. Some five ships were hit within a radius of 2000 yards around, but you worked on as if we were thousands of miles away."
My dad shuttled back and forth to other war ships where he would repair damage to their radar. I know in Kerama Retto, Ryukyu Islands and later at Nakagusuku Wan, Okinawa, he and his shipmates worked on numerous ships damaged by Kamikaze attacks while ships around them continued to get hit.
The first ship they repaired on the morning oF May 1, 1945 upon arriving at Kerama Retto under the cover of a smoke screen was the USS Terror. forty-one were dead, seven were missing and 123 were wounded after being struck by a kamikaze pilot.
in the album, there is a photo signed by 40 of his shipmates, names like Popino, McElwain, Minnich, Niesingh, Murphy and Peterson. There is not a beard or mustache to be seen on any of the mostly baby-faced sailors peeking out from beneath their white sailor's caps. There is another series of photos with sailors dressed as mermaids and pirates and a character named Neptune Rex wearing a mop for hair, all part of an elaborate rite of initiation into the domain of Neptune Rex as typed on the summons by the Royal Scribe, Davy Jones. This was more than a crew, it was a family of young men, many serving on a ship for the first time in their lives, headed into the uncertainties and dangers of war, together.
I have another veteran friend, Larry. He served with the 101st Airborne Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Larry lost a lot in the jungle in Vietnam and more when he returned home. I think the only reason he is alive today is the river he fly fishes, the place where his tears can fall silently, unnoticed into his reflection and the current below. Over the years, he taught me about fly fishing and the place of pain in healing. I'm not sure he could live without that river.
I am not a veteran.
War is a circumstance in which men and women listen to other men and women, obey their orders. It is the premise that makes the chain of command work.
Ahead of Veterans Day, here are some questions most of us will never have to answer thanks to our veterans passed and present.
What is expected of a soldier?
How do you take that first step out of the trench, the fox hole, into the blind alley?
How do you obey in that moment? Is it a choice?
Is that answer different in America because of what those before have given? Because of who they were, because ultimately they put everyone else first?
Could you give your life so that another might become what you might have become?
I yield the final word to John McCain.
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fear."
I urge everyone reading this column to honor our local veterans by attending the Veterans Roundtable, Nov. 7, starting at 1:30 p.m. at the Deerfield, 1127 W. Eighth St., in New Richmond. The roundtable is made possible by a partnership between Friday Memorial Library and the Deerfield.
Stop by the library or call for additional information, 715-243-0431 or visit the library's website at: www.newrichmondlibrary.org or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/fridaymemoriallibrary. The Deerfield is handicapped accessible.