I received an e-mail message from my sister, Christine, this morning. She was thinking of my Dad and his service in the Navy during World War II, brought to mind on this Memorial Day weekend.
She mentioned that she had heard there are only a small number of WWII veterans still alive, and that memory of this war, and its lessons, dim with the passing of so many.
We wonder about the sense any war makes. But many of the men and women who served in the past or are serving now, lay their lives on the line despite not being able to make personal sense of it all. Perhaps they were drafted, or perhaps they voluntarily enlisted. Either way, they answer the call to duty for the peace and betterment of this great country.
My Dad enlisted in the Navy in 1942, two days after his 23rd birthday. He knew he was about to be drafted but chose to enlist to serve in the US Navy. He was trained at Great Lakes (Illinois) and in Boston, Washington, DC and Brooklyn, attaining the rank of Special Artificer Optical-Machinist's Mate. His main job was in the optical shop aboard war ships where he cleaned ocean salt off the ship's binoculars.
He served in Bahia, Brazil, more than 5,000 miles from the safety of his White Lake, South Dakota farm. He told me once about being on the ship as it zigzagged its way over the ocean through enemy territory, hoping for the best.
After he was discharged in 1945, he lived his patriotism to his country, not by wearing it on his sleeve but by his actions. He joined the American Legion and served actively for 50-plus years. He visited vets at the Minneapolis Veteran's Hospital faithfully and donated gallons of blood to veterans until they told him he had reached the cut-off age. (He was indignant at this arbitrary ruling.)
He marched in every parade that involved Legionnaires and seeing him in his Legion cap was a most familar site to us.
He didn't talk of the war much to us, but his war experience consistently blended into his character. Loyal. Patriotic. Selfless. Devoted.
I hope we all never forget the spirit of giving demonstrated no better than serving in the Armed Forces. Thank you to all who continue to work for our freedom.
Oh yes, my Dad could always fit his Navy uniform, evidenced by this photo at age 79.
And from a love letter sent to my mother in 1944, he signed: