My father died nearly 11 years ago, but with Memorial Day quickly approaching, he is in my thoughts.
My father grew up during the Great Depression and as World War II broke out, he signed up for duty. I remember him telling me that he was lying on the floor and listening to a Chicago Bears football game when a news bulletin broke in informing listeners of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. My dad said he continued to listen to the game but knew what he was going to do the next day.
That’s how it kind of was with my dad. He may mention something in passing about the war and usually not elaborate. He often would just move on to another subject.
But there were reminders that he served in the Marine Corps in World War II. I recall an album of Marine-related music, including the Marine fight song. As a little kid, I remember playing it on our little portable hi-fi.
He also had pictures that featured some natives of Okinawa, Japan. Again, when asked about the photos, he just said that a friend gave them to him. I also recall he had a machete and a helmet. I remember putting on the helmet when I was a kid. I think one day I asked him where he got them and he said “he found it.” Maybe he did.
I remember my dad telling me about one incident in the war. He said that he and a couple of Marines slowly approached a building that had been mostly ripped apart by gunfire and explosives. My father and the two other Marines slowly entered. While the two other Marines approached other sections of the building, my dad turned and entered another room.
At the end of the room on the other side of the wall, my father turned and was suddenly face to face with a Japanese soldier. My father was armed and the solider, who appeared to be tired and frightened, also had a weapon. My father said he had a knife. My dad did not move and just stared into the eyes of the soldier.
After what seemed like an eternity but was more like 30 seconds, my dad slowly lifted his left arm and held out his hand. His weapon was held tightly in his right hand. The Japanese soldier continued to stare at my father. He could hear the other Marines in the building. He then slowly lifted his arm and gave the weapon to my dad.
At this time, my father called out to the other Marines. My father implied that one of the Marines was a little trigger-happy. He told my dad that they should kill him.
My dad wanted no part of that. I remember him telling me that he said, “No, you don’t do that. He’s a prisoner. We have to take him in.” That’s how my dad explained it to me. What my father did not elaborate on is that this is the right way to do things, the humane way. He knew that it was pointless to try and explain it to the other Marine.
My father was a gunner and took part in many flights in Okinawa. I do recall that someone asked him if he killed anybody in his role as a gunner. He just shrugged and said “maybe.” He did not really want to talk about it.
I do know that he was happy the war ended and he would soon be home. My dad was happy to be home and said all he wanted to do was get married and have a family. That was a common theme among the young men who came home after surviving World War II.
My father was an only child. He married a young woman from the neighborhood near Ogden Park in Chicago and settled down. They had six children.
And on Memorial Day, my father was like anybody else. If he wasn’t working as a Chicago firefighter that day, he could be seen barbecuing in the backyard and maybe playing horseshoes with some neighbors later on.
We didn’t discuss the war much. Our time was spent more on how the White Sox will do any particular season. But on this Monday, I will be thinking about him and other veterans who served and were fortunate to come home, and the others who did not.
And yes, I will probably barbecue and watch some White Sox games this weekend, just like my dad.