Saturday, December 8, 2007

Pearl Harbor Day

Its the day after the 66th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. I was thinking of that as I looked at the picture of my dad and the A-20 aircraft he crewed in that hangs over my fireplace. I can't remember how many WWII veterans are dying each day but the number is staggering. My father passed away 8 years ago and with him went all the stories that he didn't tell any of us. Like most of the WWII guys I had the opportunity to know, he just didn't talk about it. When the star studded Darryl Zanuck epic The Longest Day came out to commemorate the 20th anniversary of D-Day my dad and I went to see it. At age 9 I was full of questions, including "Dad, where were you on D-Day?" The one word reply was, "England". This was not entirely true however since the 416th bomb group flew two missions to France that day against the Argentan cross roads, which was crammed with German armor trying to reach the beaches, and the Serquex rail marshalling yard behind Utah beach. This I learned by research of course, not from the 'horses mouth'. Another tidbit was learned as I sat and watched the painfully stupid TV show Hogan's Hero's. The old man's comment was, "I'll bet your godfather's not sitting there watching this crap". Huh, what? Why wouldn't Owen be watching!? "Because he spent 14 months in one of those goddamn Luft Stalags after he got shot down." Of course I had no idea that my laid back, mild mannered godfather, Owen, had been a waist gunner on a B-24 that had been shot down over Germany in early 1944.

Just like I had no idea that my youngest sisters godfather, Lloyd, had been a navigator on the USS Lexington when it was sunk in the Coral Sea, or that Mac our neighbor had been with Merrills Marauders in Burma, or that my dads buddy Cully had been in the same PT boat squadron in the Solomons that President Kennedy had served in with PT-109. The attitude seemed to be why bother talking about this stuff, it happened decades ago; and especially why talk to an overly inquisitive 9 or 10 year old kid? These guys are literally a dying breed and if you're going to talk to them about their experiences, now is the time. I managed to sit my dad down and went through his WWII scrapbook that my Aunt Margaret had put together with him.

We had a couple bottles of Leinenkugels beer and he opened up a bit and I got a solid hours worth of info.

I guess my point is that if you know one of these vets talk to em sooner rather than later. They are living history, full of fascinating stories and information and tommorow may very well be too late.


Ranger Bob said...

Interesting to read this. Last summer, I sat my father down with a tape recorder and got him to open up about his own experiences during the war. Got about two hours of tape - precious tape.

Silbs said...

Amen. Each generation has had its wars, and each generation came back changed. I agree with you. The WWII people never really talked much about what they had done. They seemed to have come home and gone back to making a life. It wasn't until I was making funeral arangements for my late uncle (who had been a medic in WWII) that I learned he had been awarded 2 bronze stars. I never did find out what he had done to earn them. The chance for them to pass on their oral history is slipping away.

Kristen said...

Excellent writing, Olson. One of the best things about going back to NZ each year (hopefully) is to hear dad's stories, and he's only really just started telling them, at 86. There were some pearlers this last trip back.

DaveO said...

Kiwi, lets hear a few of em!