My Dad joined the US Navy in 1930 at the age of 17 and spent twenty years serving his country. Shortly after I was born he was assigned to a destroyer that was to escort the US Aircraft Carrier Saratoga to Hawaii. While he was at sea Mom and I were flown to Hawaii and in the middle of a tour of Pearl Harbor, the officer in charge cut the tour short and directed my Mom and the rest of the wives, whose husbands had been assigned to Hawaii, to report to the airfield. We were all flown back to San Diego the next morning it was December 7th!
Being only six weeks old I never heard of the story until after my Dad died. He never told me much about his experiences and it is something I have learned, that most veterans don’t tend to talk much about their war experiences. Many have lost friends and have seen things they rather forget than remember and talking about those years brings back more sad memories than pleasant ones.
There was a year, when my daughter was graduating and she had invited my godparents to join us in her celebration, when my Dad sat down with his old war buddy and they began to talk about some of their war experiences. It was the day I learned how my Dad’s hearing in one ear had been damaged. It happen when the cotton batten in his one ear fell out just as the antiaircraft gun he was assigned to began firing. Then my godfather explained how he lost part of his finger when a hatch closed suddenly from a bitter Alaskan wind while he was out to sea off the coast of the Aleutian Islands patrolling for a possible Japanese invasion. That was it!
Dad would tell me stories about his naval experiences after the war and how he met my Mom. Later he told my son about his trip through Panama Canal and showed us pictures of the USS Arizona as it traversed the Canal.
Then in 1997, Dad died and was buried with honor by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). The VFW is an American organization similar to the Legion, except its members have all been involved in a war that has taken them away from the homeland. As part of the ceremony the VFW presented to my Mom the flag that had draped Dad’s coffin. As a family we decided the best place for the flag would be in a case the VFW had for such events. It was in the VFW Hall and would be available for all to see. Since 1997 that is where the flag has been and since the hall is thousands of miles from us, over time we had almost forgotten about it.
In 2009 Mom passed away and as in most family cases we went through all the things my Mom and Dad had acquired over the years. Many of them brought a smile to me as I discovered the things they had kept about my childhood, but then there was a box filled with pictures and ribbons and mementos of Dad’s military career. It was then I learned that Dad was on the battleship USS New York when, in 1936, it was the only American naval vessel to take part in King George’s Coronation. It is here I found out that Dad was involved in some of the most deadly and key battles in the Pacific and the damaged eardrum occurred as he and his gunner mates were in the processes of knocking one of the last kamikaze planes out of the air.
This was a Dad I never knew. I never knew the warrior, who was prepared to sacrifice for his family, to do what had to be done so I could be safe. The Dad I knew took me fishing and supported me when I was playing baseball and became involved in Scouts and let me go to New Mexico for a scout camp. He taught me manners and to eat my vegetables.
As an educator and an individual who had a father that had served during wartime, I was a strong believer in Remembrance Day and ensuring that my students got a good grasp of the sacrifices that have been made for them.
In the beginning it was easy as many of the students had fathers who had served, then it was their grandfathers and now it is their great-grandfathers and it has become harder for the young of today to appreciate the importance of the day but every once in awhile you read a poem or a story written by a student and you realize that they still remember.
Today my hometown VFW has decided to sell their Hall. There just isn’t enough members to keep it running and I fear that there will soon be a day when all the Legion Halls will disappear. Hopefully their sacrifices will never be forgotten.
Thanks to modern media I learned about the faith of the hall and was able to contact someone still involved in the organization and have recently learned that my Dad’s flag will soon be coming home. I think about the time my Dad spoke to my son and how enthralled my son was about the stories and I know that the flag will always have a home in our family and we will always remember the sacrifices our military make to keep us safe.