SFPNN Special Edition – 11/11/05  Willing to Serve

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Today’s issue of SFPNN is dedicated to all those who have served or are serving their country. 

— Thanks to author Joseph Walker for today's Special Edition

By Joseph Walker

Dad never spoke much about his military experiences during World War II.

            Oh, he talked about being drafted into the Army as a 34-year-old father of four-going-on-five.  He told about going to the draft board to see if they were really serious, and pleading with them to let him do “war work” that would allow him to stay close to his family.  He joked about being reminded by the board that he was, after all, an insurance salesman, “and the only thing less vital to the war effort than an insurance salesman is an artificial flower maker.”

            I heard him tell that story a hundred times, and I laughed every time he told it.  So did he.

            He also chuckled at the memory of how he tricked the Army into giving him a little extra time to get his affairs in order before he was inducted, during which he enlisted in the Navy’s officer training program.  He called himself one of the Navy’s “90-day wonders,” which meant he participated in a training course that took him from being an almost elderly insurance salesman to being a fit, fully functional lieutenant j.g. in a little less than three months.

            He was pretty open about how he felt when his fifth child, little Bobby, was born while he was at training camp.  They announced the baby’s safe arrival over the camp loudspeaker.  Dad celebrated as best he could while peeling potatoes on K.P. duty.

            He also talked about how he felt more than two years later when he finally came home from the war and little Bobby came running up to him at the train station, holding up his chubby arms and calling out with some uncertainty: “Daddy?”

            Tears would come to Dad’s eyes when he remembered that.  Mine too.

            So, yeah – Dad would talk about events leading up to his service during World War II, and he would talk about events after his stint was over.  But I hadn’t heard much – if anything – about his time as a communications officer stationed at Pearl Harbor (arriving two years after the infamous attack there) until I asked him about it seven or eight Veteran’s Days ago.

            Dad was in his late eighties, and he had already started sliding down the slippery slope of Alzheimer’s.  He could remember what he and Mom had for breakfast the morning after they were married in 1937, but he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast two hours earlier.  I knew that if Dad was going to shed any light on this subject, it would have to be soon.

            “So, Dad,” I ventured one day when we were driving in the mountains, “you’ve never told me about what you did while you were stationed at Pearl Harbor during the war.”

            “I was a communications officer,” he said, staring out the car window.  “Junior grade.”

            “Yeah, I know that,” I said.  “But what did you DO?”

            “I sent messages . . . and received messages . . . and did whatever I was told to do every day,” he said, still staring out the window.  “Then I came home.”

            “But wasn’t it kind of scary to be out there in the middle of the war?”

            He shook his head and smiled, still looking absently at the passing scenery.  “No, I was very safe,” he said.  “It was like . . . a job.  I’d go to work, then I’d play tennis.”

            So that’s why he never talked much about it, I reasoned.  It was boring.  We drove in silence for a few minutes until I noticed him digging in his pocket for his hankie.  I looked at him.  His eyes were moist and red.

            “I played tennis,” he said, looking at me for the first time, his voice edged with emotion.  “Other men went out on ships.  Many of them never returned.  And I . . . played . . . tennis.”

            Finally I understood why he never talked about it.  He went where he was assigned to go.  He did what he was trained to do.  But he was safe and secure and playing an occasional game of tennis at Pearl Harbor while others were fighting and dying in horrible conflict.  He felt guilty.

            I’ve thought about that every Veteran’s Day since that afternoon drive with Dad.  I think about the men and women who have accepted the call to duty.  I think about those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom – and those who were willing to.  And I thank God for them all.

            Whether or not they talk much about it.

* * *


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