This Memorial Day, among other things, I picked up our favorite sweets at the Japanese supermarket with my German husband. Go figure. Some fifty-five years ago, my dad was in a mine sweeper detonating mines laid by German U-boats along the eastern seaboard and in the Mediterranean, and in the Pacific theater, those mines laid by Japanese ships around different Pacific islands. To think of the friends I have in Japan and Germany and to think of the effort and sacrifice it took--and takes--for friendship, prosperity and peace between people to take root, grow and blossom.
My dad is my dad. And alone in that regard a bit larger than life to me. Still, in very objective ways, he is very remarkable. He has a mind like a trap. An engineer to his very core, his technical background began already in toddlerhood, when he would unrig the cultivators by hammering on the tail nuts with any tools that the hired help may have left laying about, to later earning several U.S. patents in his name, including one thingamajig that is used in every diesel engine made today. He remembers names, dates, days of the week and little details that would be erased from my personal RAM. He is 88 years old and a World War II veteran. Until recently, all my dad would give me when asked about World War II were a few lines of the Irving Berlin song,
"We joined the navy to see the sea.
On this Memorial Day, however, I asked him if he remembered the day the United States entered the war. Please note, my dad "learned to cuss when he was three years old, hitching rides atop the log wagon that was working to clear timber around the farm house. That old man could cuss for thirty minutes straight without repeating himself. He would hang the reigns next to him. He wouldn't use the reigns, but would drive the mule team for that log wagon just by yelling and cussing." So, I've had to clean up the account a bit. Just a bit.
"I was visiting my Uncle Howard in Prarie, Missouri. He trapped muskrats. We were down at the creek setting traps. It was November 7th and he was down in the creek and he had caught three muskrats. When we got back to the house, Aunt Janie said the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor. And my comment was, "The dirty sons-of-bitches." It was about 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon and I made my mind up then and there to join the Navy and work on aircraft engines (to hell with the Army: The Navy was more mechanical, technical). I went to the Kennet (Missouri) post office and joined the Navy for the duration of the war.
"And so they gave me orders to report to Kennet on the 30th of December, 1941. And so they sent us to Saint Louis. I hadn't been to Saint Louis before. They put us up in a hotel (this was my first time staying in a hotel). I went through a medical exam on the 30th at the courthouse in Saint Louis. The next morning, they put us on a train to Chicago (my first time in a Pullman car, you know, with the bunks). At 1:00, on January 1, 1942, I stepped off that train and onto Great Lakes Naval Training. I spent 17 days getting shots and indoctrination into the Navy. For the first nine days, I didn't have a pea coat. They didn't have a pea coat big enough for me. I damn near froze to death standing in front of Building Five, the mess.
"They had us sleeping in hammocks, I suppose to get us used to sleeping in them. There were 120 of us in a bay. The hammocks were strung between iron posts. One guy would fall out and he'd take another five with him. We didn't get a whole lot of sleep.
"After 17 days of getting (immunization) shots, they put me on a train back to Chicago for training. Instead of aircraft engines, I got diesel engines. I was an Apprentice Seaman for eight weeks. I was involved in two 'incidents' at the diesel engine school.
"The first one was when the chief told me to hold my thumb over the crank of the engine. They had a McCormick engine started on a gasoline cycle and switched it over to diesel. Now these engines were like the old Model T engines with the crank...If you held your thumb over the end while turning, you could break an arm. So I flat out refused. The chief told me to leave and he stepped up to the engine. The next time I saw him, his arm was in a cast and I heard that he broke that arm turning that crank right after I walked out..."
I'm not entirely sure why I write this all down here, on this blog. His history is my ancestry, but, in a way, also world history, so maybe I just want to put it down. I have some other stories of his to share, which I will save for another day.
I hope you don't mind. I'll have some crafting and sewing things ready to share in a couple of days, but right now, this is what is on my mind.