Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa. That’s all I ever knew about my father’s service with the Marines during World War II. Any time I asked he would say that he was in the South Pacific for more than 3 years seeing action on Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa. That was all, until one night when I was a teenager, and I saw a documentary about the Battle of Okinawa and learned that over 14,000 Allied soldiers died. I asked him if it was as horrible as the film made it seem?
There’s a reason they say war is hell, he offered. I asked what it was like? He related two memories from the 82 days of the battle. He shot a Japanese soldier. He stood looking down at the man, who was about his own age. Peeking out of a pocket was the corner of a photograph. Daddy bent down and gently removed it. It was of a young woman and small girl; his wife and daughter, no doubt. He took the photo of mom and Leslyn (my sister) from his breast pocket. He held them side by side. He was responsible for tearing apart this young family. He slipped the photograph into the man’s pocket again. He looked at his face, the enemy. How had this young man become his enemy? Politicians who were simply seeking great power had said so. Now he was the enemy invader.
The other memory was one that was reminiscent of a horror film. When it was discovered that the Island’s inhabitants had taken to the hills and caves to hide during the fighting, the American troops were sent into ‘round them up’. There were no people to round up, just bodies of men, women and children who died by each other’s hands and their own. The bodies were to be removed via wheelbarrows. He had nightmares about it for years.
War may seem exciting and adventurous, he warned, but it is not something to be glorified or celebrated. The Marine Corps, on the other hand, is definitely worth glorifying and celebrating. When you are the offspring of a Marine you learn early on that “once a Marine always a Marine”. The first song I learned was the Marine Corps Hymn and the first Latin phrase was Semper Fidelis, always faithful. So today, Veterans Day and the day after the Marine Corps birthday I raise a glass to all the men and women who have served in the armed services. Particularly those in my family, Daddy, Mike (my late husband) who served in the Marines during the Viet Nam war (oops, police action), Chuck (Leslyn’s husband) who was a peace time Marine. Has the world ever been at peace?
There are other soldiers in my family, too, several cousins on both sides of my family were in the Navy and my grandmother was a WAC during the Second World War.
War is unhealthy for children and other living things was a popular poster in the 1960s and is just as relevant today, so I honor vets from all over the world today.
In Flanders Fields
Major John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Turn on your green light and light the way home for all the Veterans in the world.