Today, the United States sets aside a time to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to the country. I suspect many of you have deep family connections that are brought to mind on this day.
It has caused me to think of my Father who passed away two and a half years ago (9/15/2012). He served in the Army in World War II and for a large part of his tour he was stationed in Alaska. The above photo was taken in his office in Anchorage where he was part of the JAG (Judge Advocates General’s Corp).
When going through Dad’s things my older brothers and I found a Purple Heart medal stuffed in the back corner of a jewelry box. A medal I did not know he had received and something we had never talked about.
If you recall, the Japanese controlled a couple strategic Aleutian Islands in 1942-43 which are part of Alaska. Thus those stationed in Alaska were considered to be in a combat zone. Apparently Dad was somehow injured (what and how is unclear) and according to the regulations, if you are hurt while in a combat zone you are eligible to earn a Purple Heart.
We also found his Army dress uniform, still in good condition after seventy years. So as part of his memorial service the family put the uniform, rank insignia (First Lieutenant), service ribbons, and his purple heart on display.
I am proud of my father’s service to our country. (His father, my grandfather, also served is the U.S. Calvary in WWI.) He played a small part in the giant effort to preserve and protect our country. But we are reminded that every piece is part of the whole. And each piece must perform with excellence.
It would be a stretch to push the metaphor into the writing world so I’ll leave that to your imagination.
In the meantime, if you are inclined, our community of writers would like to hear your stories related to you or your family’s service in the comments below. Please be respectful of this solemn occasion.
Thank you to anyone and everyone who has served. And to the families who supported them during their service. We salute you.
James Scott Bell
Thanks for sharing about your dad, Steve. My father also served in WWII, in the Navy, taking command of a ship in the south Pacific when he was 24 years old. Isn’t that an astonishing thing to think about? How these very young men stepped up so bravely in a time of need? We have to keep passing along this history.
God bless all our veterans today.
That’s an amazing story, Steve. Thanks so much for sharing those precious photos, too. My uncle served in WWII and is now buried in Arlington Cemetary. He was the last survivor of his infantry, stationed in the heart of Germany. Left alone on the winter hillside he sought refuge in a German barn, but when the frostbite in his feet worsened he instructed the generous family to help him to the roadside so they would not be discovered. Days later, the SS picked him up and forced him to march miles to camp. Gangrene finally set in, and when the doctor noted my uncle’s dogtag, “Ziegelhofer,” he agreed to amputate both of feet (without anesthesia.) The war ended, and my uncle returned home, speaking little of the tribulation of those years, but was never the same. Thank you to all who served and are serving, risking your life, enduring hardships that evolve into life-long memories that you carry forever, so we can be free. God bless you.
Thank you for this fine post. This Memorial Day is especially poignant for my family because at the end of February we buried a son who lost his battle with PTSD and left behind three young daughters and his wife.
I continue to be astonished by what these young men did for our future. My own father and his friends left their sheltered lives on the farm to go to distant lands and fight for freedom. My own father ended up in a clerical position in Virginia. The closest he got to combat was guarding prisoners of war for a time. Yet, the sacrifice of leaving behind all he knew and being ready to step into battle amazes me. I am so grateful.
Kathy Tyers Gillin
I appreciated the tribute to your dad, Steve. Well done. My dad also served in World War II, in the Army Air Corps. He spent most of the war as a test pilot in the southern US. As he put it, “When a plane went down, it was my job to fly the biggest piece back to the base.” He also made sure that when an engine was replaced, it was functioning properly–and he did this by flying the plane, of course. He liked to brag about playing hopscotch with cars on a country road, and hide-and-seek between cloud layers with other pilots. After the war, he was sent to Japan to oversee the conversion of a military factory to civilian production. I always was terribly proud of him. He passed away several years ago, and I miss him so much.
My grandfather never talked about his time in the war. It wasn’t until my mother was in her late 40s that she learned that he had landed at Normandy 2 days after D-Day. When she asked him about it, he answered briefly. I think the entire conversation lasted less than three minutes, and it was never spoken of again. My imagination balks at trying to picture what he saw and experienced on those beaches. I’m sure he could close his eyes and remember it all quite clearly. Thank you for the post about your Dad. In a world where it seems everyone is seeking validation, it’s a poignant reminder of the beauty and honor of serving faithfully, even when no one knows how much it cost.
My Dad served in the convoys to Vladivostok and in the D-Day landings, yet was no hero to me for the better part of our lives. That said, I have nothing negative to say. Having resisted the darkest threats to freedom, he fought a personal battle against the faith of his wife and children, until more than 6 decades later he surrendered – to the cross. He did a discipleship course at 80 and was baptized at 81. He and I, more so than any of my siblings, resolved our pasts and were fully reconciled in the living years. He also followed through on his discipleship program by confessing all his offences and sins to a third party. Then, suddenly, he took the next boat to the front, never to return. I always wondered how I would memorialize a man who had made enemies of so many, but I stood tall and proud in my eulogy to tell the extraordinary story of the tough, disciplined mariner who walked over the waters and found the redemption that my mom prayed for to her dying day – I believe he told her in person that her vigilance finally paid off. He saw many young men die in the opening salvos of D-Day, but now his tears are wiped away forever. I salute him this day in the spirit of this noble cause.
Steve, thank you for the post about your dad. How touching! I’d like to pay tribute to my husband, Loren, who flew helicopters in Vietnam. He flew several dangerous missions, as you can imagine, but one was especially so. In 1968 he flew a mission to resupply troops on a mountaintop who were nearly overrun by Viet Cong. He went in and out several times under extreme enemy fire, and the mission was a success. For his bravery, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the second most recognized medal for an Army aviator–just behind the Medal of Honor. Because of him, many men were able to return to their wives and children after their tour in Vietnam. He is so humble and rarely speaks of it. He’s my hero, and I honor him today!
If Loren doesn’t mind talking about it ask him if the mountaintop was Nui Ba Den, (the black virgin mountain) in Tay Ninh Province. There were many mountaintops and desperate battles where helicopter pilots and crews, many times at the cost of their own lives, made all the difference. I spent close to two months as a helicopter crew member (doorgunner) after being recruited from an Army infantry unit. Another volunteer friend of mine took a round through the head on his first mission out.
I always flew on UH-1 Huey slicks. I rarely knew who the pilots were and they never got to knew who I was. They were always warrant officers and I have the highest respect for them. We each knew our job and there wasn’t a lot of discussion. The flying skills and bravery while under fire possessed by these guys was truly impressive. It wasn’t until many years later that I was told that one out of every ten names on the wall in Washington, DC was helicopter crew and pilots.
Thank you for sharing about your father and his time serving our country. He left behind an amazing legacy for your and your siblings..
I have a number of family members and in-laws who have served in the Armed Forces. Most don’t share their combat stories. I can’t tell you how very thankful I am for their service, and for the many, many who have given their lives in defense of this country.
Thank you for the beautiful tribute to your father, Steve. How proud your family must be. My father was classified 4-F because of a birth defect in his knee that caused him to fail his physical. He was envious of his cousins and my mother’s cousins and brother who did serve. Here at home he made sure we did everything we could to support our troops. We had a victory garden, collected tinfoil, scrap metal and bought war bonds.
One of those cousins came home missing one leg below the knee…the exact same leg his father lost in WWI. He also brought home a German war bride, the daughter of the family who rescued him after he was injured during a parachute landing in enemy territory. They nursed him back to health but couldn’t save his leg. He also received the Purple Heart, but never spoke of all he endured. His wife is the one who told us the story many years later.
My prayer today is that we who lived through the war years or have loved ones who did, never let the story die and the memory of this great generation will live on to remind us of the cost of our freedom.
It makes me rather sad that so many federal holidays have been moved to Mondays to make long weekends. Many of my younger friends don’t think of Memorial Day as anything but an extra day off. Thanks for giving us a chance to focus on what our fathers did.
My dad was in the North Dakota National Guard when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He shipped out to the South Pacific with the first groups of infantry. He spent 33 months in combat. He earned both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star at Guadalcanal. He used to tell stories about cooking in his helmet and fishing with the six-piece bamboo fly rod I still have. He never talked about combat. When we kids asked why he got the medals, he said it was “for being a damn fool.” Mom let us read the citation papers about him leading recon missions behind Japanese lines. He made sergeant three times because he questioned stupid orders that might get his men killed.
I don’t’ remember him as a warrior. I remember him as the man who taught me to fly fish and as the dad who called me Sweetie until he died at 71. I still miss him after 25 years. He was a man who loved God and raised three kids who do as well. He was faithful to his country, faithful to his wife, and faithful to his God. I was so blessed to have such a man as my father. His love made it easier to understand my Heavenly Father, who loves me even more.
It is humbling to know how many men and women have come before us and died for us to live the lives we have today. My grandfather was a decorated Army colonel and fought in WWII. I always feel like I am walking in a museum when I go to their home and look through his medals, uniforms, loot from Hitler’s summer home, and the pictures he took of concentration camp prisoners that he and his troop liberated. While he did not die at war, he witnessed so many who did…and they did not die in vain. God bless America!
Thank you for sharing, Steve. Thanks to all who’ve shared stories.
My heart breaks for Joan Donaldson. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m so glad you decided to share your son’s story. Thank you for your family’s service and sacrifice. As a Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader and as a public affairs officer, I’ve been with so many moms, dads, and wives in the moments and days following the news that their Soldier died in battle (OIF, OEF, deployment training, and PTSD). I have two friends who are OIF widows. The road to healing is long for those left behind.
My husband is at the National Training Center now. He’s an airborne infantryman with 19 years of service and 7 deployments: Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq (x2), and Afghanistan (x3). PTSD is real, and it hurts families. He’s seen so much. He’s lost so many friends. The carnage, the loss, and the guilt of being alive and well changed him. We almost didn’t make it.
That’s when God closed every door in our lives leaving only one path available, a path to Him, to salvation and to a wonderful church. Thanks to God and to our church family, we’ve found enough healing to keep us moving ahead. “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” (Psalm 40:2)
Sandy Faye Mauck
Beautiful story Steve and all the others. So many could not talk about the war experience and felt it absurd to get any glory from war.
My dad started in the Army Air Corp – later turned Air Force. He was a lifer with his last stint in the Pentagon. He was in communications and intelligence. I have his jacket, too. He, my mom and siblings just missed Pearl Harbor and lost friends. My uncle was shot down in WWII. My father-in-law joined when he was too young and they sent him home, then went back. He served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam and is still alive. My brother and brother-in-law served in Vietnam. Military Family. My great uncle and aunt were not in the military but civilians in Japanese POW camp. We could never get them to tell the story.
Thank you to each of you for sharing. It’s not a joyous task. I know the pain. My Grandfather served in WWI, my Father in WWII, two uncles in WWII, and two uncles in Korea, and my husband in VietNam.
Each of them had their stories, but it has been the untold stories that inspired me to write my book. My uncle Paul whom I was never blessed to meet, has been my inspritation. His last mission was to bring POWs from Korea. His plane went down but all his precious cargo made it safely home. I only know stories about uncle Paul.
My Uncle Owen made it home from Korea, but a closed head injury left him in a world of his own, until his passing in 1982. Uncle Owen lived in our home, my mother saw to his needs. But I reaped the blessing of a childhood shared with Uncle Owen,
It is for Uncle Owen and Uncle Paul that I write my book. Growing up I often thought what their lives could have been. My novel is their life story.
This coming Sept 20th will mark the 2nd anniversary of my husband’s passing. He suffered for years from exposure to Agent Orange. He battled with several types of cancer, many operations to remover tumors etc. He suffered terrible rashes, PTS, removal of a kidney, heart attacks, but he fought like no one I’ve ever known. He was a Marine to the end. He was only bedfast 3 days. He would not give in. I know the moment he saw GOD, because the presence of GOD filled our living room. His passing was the most glorious and beautiful experience I have ever witnessed.
I thank GOD that he allowed my life to be touched by each of these men. I shall forever rejoyce and be glad.
Sandy Faye Mauck
That is beautiful, Linda. I know that death into life moment and the glory that shines all over the room. It is something I wish everyone could have seen. No more suffering. We have hope the world longs for but does not comprehend.
And that was another thing I had wanted to mention yesterday. They didn’t all die on the battlefield. They carried the repercussions of what happened, just like your husband, Patricia’s and Joan’s son. Every Vet I have ever known suffers with some malady and many alone and on the streets. And Purple hearts belong to families, too.
Carla Jo Novotny
My father was a tail gunner in WW2. Mom said he changed. Often he sat at the kitchen table thinking the day away. He worked construction but often quit. He was over protective of me. Now in these later years I get it. I stood and said his name in memory in church for the first time this year. I pretty much cried off and on most of the day for the first time as I let myself feel, think and review anew.
Leaving church we thanked some obvious young retired service men sitting on the tailgate of a big older truck. The American flag on a tall pole was an added give away. They were so grateful we recognized their service.
I wish I knew what I now know when I was growing up or even in my 20’s, 30’s 40’s or later. We were just starting to get close right before he died by his hand in 1989. Getting through that was a long season of pain I know G-d does not condemn sickness or disease so his spiritual decision for Jesus will stand and I’ll see him again. And then it will all be OK. I read all the comments and appreciate understanding more. Thank you.