Decoration Day: Survivors Honor Fallen Brothers-in-Arms


Well thought out words fully capturing one essence of Memorial Day… Beautifully written.

The Veteran's Collection

Over the past few weeks, I have taken a little time to focus on other priorities such as my primary job (I don’t write on a full-time basis), my family and my fitness (not necessarily in that order). In response to that focus, my attention had shifted away from militaria and the various aspects of collecting during that period of time. Now that we are in the latter half of May, I need to bring my thoughts back to my passion for military history as one of the most important holidays (in my opinion) draws near.

Turning on the news this morning, my interest in the weekend forecast is piqued as the meteorologist begins to discuss the cooler than normal temperatures, the risk of rainfall and how these conditions will impact camping, boating and backyard barbecue plans. The statement really struck me as my only considerations for this weekend surrounded…

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1942, WWII: Oberlin College Welcomes Japanese-American Students


History repeats itself… Indeed.

生きる

“Oberlin Offers a Friendly Welcome to Seventeen Japanese-American Students”

Oberlin News-Tribune, October 1, 1942

This community will be host during the coming college year to a group of approximately 17 students who, though they are all American citizens, are of Japanese ancestry.  Five of these young people have previously been enrolled here, but the others are new to Oberlin.  Eleven will arrive here this weekend who are evacuees from the Pacific coastal areas and who have been living in the evacuation camps of the West.

True to its best traditions the Oberlin community bids these Japanese Americans a completely friendly welcome.  They were all born in the United States—in California, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey and Hawaii.  They all have excellent records for scholarship, character and citizenship.   They have been excellently recommended by friends of Oberlin, and Oberlin College vouches for them.

Oberlin residents will look upon these students, certainly with…

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Because You Died For Me


Such honor and reverence in these humbling words…

The Chatter Blog

Because you died for me

I will do my best

To be my best.

I will not squander my chance,

To live free.

To live with choice.

To honor your service and your memory.

Because you died for me

I will appreciate

The full life I have.

I will not belittle your sacrifice

By belittling my country

Or spoiling the greatness you believed in.

Because you died for me

I will learn what I can

Of what you went through,

What you suffered,

And what your family lost.

I will not turn my eyes from the lessons before me,

Or behind me.

Because you died for me

I will live in my country with gratitude for it’s very existence

Owed to you.

And your duty and your honor.

Because you died for me

Thank you is not enough.

Because you died for me

I must live with dignity

For the…

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“But Papaa-aaa…”


So my littlest needed an MRI yesterday.

Nothing serious.  Something wrong with her growth plate in her knee plus “osteochondroma of the medial tibia”.

So she’s been on crutches for a couple weeks plus a knee brace…and for the MRI, I reassured her there was nothing to worry about.  It would be just some noise and “a shot”.

But after the MRI yesterday, she was a tad upset with me.  Well, a mild rant, really…lasting over three hours.

She basically implied that I withheld valuable information from her…regarding the “shot”.

Well, she was right.

It was really an IV…and she said there were TWO injections of dye.

And that the IV needle was in her arm for TWENTY minutes (she exaggerated – of course)…unlike the flu shot three months ago ” that I tried to kill her with and (she) still got sick”.

And that the dye injections made her mouth taste like ocean water and it smelled like garbage.

Oh well.

But she survived.

______________________

Well, she got back at me this morning…because she claims I withheld valuable information from her.

I had to muscle her out of bed and whoo-ee…  Was she grumpy or what.  But she immediately reminded me while flailing her good arm in no particular pattern “her arm hurt (because of the shot)”.  She stopped flailing her good arm just to point to the injection point.

We were running late (on account of she wouldn’t get out of bed, of course).  I told her to get in the car while I changed my slacks.  (They were too tight.  It must be how Halle Berry felt in her Catwoman outfit.)

Hurried to the car and about a half-mile down the street, I looked at her and noticed something.  So I asked.

“Buru (my nickname for Brooke), where’s your OTHER crutch?”

She then said with her “give me sympathy” tone of voice, “But Papaa-aaa…”  You know. When the voice drags on and goes up and down.

“But Papaa-aaa (she said it twice)… I was too tired this morning so I didn’t want to go look for it…”

So I said, “So you were gonna walk around all day at school today with just one crutch?” to which she just makes a small giggling sound while smiling so innocently back at me.

Had to turn around to get the dang crutch; found it at 6:44 AM.

She got back me all right, that sneaky little thing.

Oh, we-ll-ll-ll (as my voice goes up and down).

2013-05-23 06.44.04

“It” and Memorial Day


From www.memorialdayfilm.com
From http://www.memorialdayfilm.com

In the 2012 limited release movie, “Memorial Day”, children are playing at their grandparent’s home in a rural setting. It is Memorial Day weekend.  A 13 year old boy stumbles across a dusty box in a barn.

The box is his grandfather’s WWII Army footlocker, emblazoned with the unit insignia of his famed unit, the 82nd Airborne.  It is filled with “souvenirs” he had brought home from war.

The young grandson probingly asks the grandfather for the stories behind the souvenirs to which he curtly answers no – and bitterly orders the boy to take the footlocker back to where he found it.

“It’s Memorial Day…” says the grandson.

“Damn straight it is,” barks back the grandfather.

The young lad digs in, not wanting to fall short in his quest for answers, and pushes the footlocker even closer to his grandfather.

The grandson then doggedly asks, “What is it I’m supposed to remember?”

Checkmate.

___________________________

Memorial Day.

In essence, a day to remember, honor and pray for those nameless souls who were KIA (Killed in Action).

To remember those that didn’t return from war.  Young boys.  Young men.

But as the young boy in the movie asked, “What is it I’m supposed to remember?”

Do YOU have an answer to that boy’s question?

I didn’t…and perhaps still don’t as I was not shot at, bombed or strafed…nor killed.

__________________________

WWII vets at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. July 2010
My photo of WWII vets at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. July 2010

The only thing I do know is that WWII combat veterans do NOT want to talk about “it”.

And that’s our problem, I feel.  Because these combat vets are unable to share with us the horror they lived through 70 years ago, it helps diffuse the essence of Memorial Day.

They are unable to share for their own sanity’s sake.

As WWII combat survivors (a.k.a., now collectively known as “vets”) would bravely crack open their bottled abominations to talk about “it” with me, I will venture to blurt that possibly – just possibly – they feel unbearable guilt and shame for what they saw…or did…or did NOT do…  but that they survived to talk about “it”.

But their buddies didn’t.

___________________________

(Note: World War II is the focus of this story.  WWII was a cataclysm of never to be matched magnitude again.  There was wanton destruction of entire cities and civilians.  Inflicting casualties on the enemy was expected and accepted by the majority.  This is not to downplay Korea, Viet Nam or our current war on terrorism.  There are different rules of engagement now with much different social expectations by the “good guys”.)

Perhaps you will let me take a chance with trying to bring to light some of the “it” things you may or may not know…  If you can at least read about the combat experience, perhaps it will help YOU appreciate Memorial Day even more… and of those that are not with us today.

I’ve collected these personal observations, comments and facts from talking with several bona fide WWII combat vets and just plain reading.  Nothing scientific, of course.

So here goes:

  1. Nearing death, as grievously wounded young men take their last gasps, the most often said word was, “Mama”.
  2. Under fire, many would curl up into a fetal position shaking uncontrollably while their buddies would somehow raise their weapons to shoot back… only to get showered with their blood and brains as a enemy round obliterated his buddy’s head.  It is not about cowardice.  It is FEAR.
  3. About 25% of them peed in their pants.  About 10% shit in their pants.  (Old Man Jack did both…and he was not ashamed to say so.  Ergo, his quote from Two Old Men and a Father’s Day Anguish: “If you got killed with shit in your pants, you got buried with shit in your pants.”)
  4. Another 25% of these brave young boys and men were so scared or were so repulsed at the gore, e.g., at seeing liquified brains spewing from a shattered skull, they vomited.
  5. One Marine told me he was to silently kill a Japanese sentry using a makeshift garotte only to find the sentry had fallen asleep face up.  He couldn’t use the garotte as the enemy’s helmet was in the sand and the enemy could let out a scream if he used his Kabar.  At the appointed minute, my friend had no choice but to jump on the sleeping soldier and grip his Adam’s apple with all his might… to keep him from yelling, too.  He knew the enemy died when his body went limp and urinated.  My friend did, too.  He said he thinks he gripped the enemy’s throat for over two minutes.  His hands couldn’t stop shaking.  It was his first hand-to-hand kill.
  6. After hearing sounds at night, frightened soldiers or Marines would unleash a violent and impenetrable barrage of carbine and machine gun fire.  When they reconnoitered at day break, they discovered they had mistakenly slaughtered unarmed men, women and children.  They would vomit then, too.  (I can’t imagine what went on in their souls for the rest of their lives.)
  7. Sometime in 1943, Army psychiatrists took a survey of “frontline” troops.  Less than 1% said they wanted to go back into battle (I understand this was exclusive of the more higher trained units like the Rangers or Airborne).  Almost NONE of the Silver Star recipients wanted to go back.  But they did.
  8. Army psychiatrists found that 60 days was the limit for being on the front lines…before a soldier would crack.  Old Man Jack was out on the front for just about a year for his first deployment on “those stinkin’ islands”.
  9. A Nisei 442nd vet told me just the sound of the Nazi MG42 machine gun would make them shit in their pants.  It could fire up to 1,500 rounds a minute and chew through tree trunks behind which they were seeking cover.  Sometimes, a buddy’s top half would be separated from the bottom half by the MG42…and they saw it happen.
  10. Another Nisei vet told me they were on patrol when they came under a barrage.  As he and a buddy dove into a shell hole for cover, his buddy’s arm went into a rotting, foul mass of a decomposing German’s remains.
  11. Human souvenir hunting was rampant – and most extreme in the Pacific Theater.  Correspondents documented in their reports that a number of Allied military “boiled” Japanese skulls or left them out for the ants to eat away most of the flesh, then kept them.  Sailors would leave a skull in a net trawling behind their ship to cleanse them of flesh.  For some, the skulls were too large or awkward so they would keep ears or noses.  (In fact, Customs had issues with these skulls when a military man would bring them back to the US after discharge.)  And as Old Man Jack witnessed in “Old Man Jack-isms #4“, some would collect gold teeth.

    SKULL
    A souvenir skull. Someone had etched “1945 Jap skull Okinawa” onto it.
  12. In a battle report, several very young Marines cut off the heads from Japanese corpses, impaled them onto stakes and pointed the faces at the enemy across the way to taunt them.  When their commanding officer ordered them to take the severed heads down, they replied something to the effect of if we eat like animals, fight like animals and look like animals, we are going to act like animals.
  13. Old Man Jack mentioned something he called “squeakers”.  He didn’t elaborate on it too much but it’s when fear becomes so overpowering, men would get dry mouth or start gagging… a problem if you were an officer trying to give orders under fire to keep men alive.  They would “squeak”.
  14. “Take a very, very ripe tomato.  Throw it with all your might against a weathered cedar plank fence.  Listen to the sound of the impact.  That’s what it sounds like when a bullet hits your buddy.”  A Nisei vet told me that.

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These next images, to be politically correct in today’s world, will be very upsetting to some so a warning to you…  But these must be seen to help comprehend why many combat veterans don’t want to talk about “it” and therefore, the difficulty in helping us answer, “What am I supposed to remember?”:

A frozen Nazi propped up like a road sign.
A dead and frozen Nazi is propped up like a road sign.
Non-chalant
The booted feet of a dead Japanese soldier, foreground, and his hand protrude from beneath a mound of earth on Iwo Jima during the American invasion of the Japanese Volcano Island stronghold in 1945 in World War II. U.S. Marines can be seen nearby in foxholes. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)
Perhaps this is similar to what Mr. Johnson saw during the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands and Guadalcanal where he was gravely wounded.  National Archives.
Perhaps this is similar to what Mr. Johnson saw during the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands and Guadalcanal where he was gravely wounded. Note the position of this dead sailor’s feet relative to his upper body. National Archives.
Okinawa
A US Army soldier lays as he died on Okinawa while the fighting continues around him. National Archives.
Dead Japanese soldier on Luzon, 1945. US Army photo archives.
Dismembered Japanese soldier on Luzon, 1945. US Army photo archives.
British military removing burned German corpse from knocked out tank. National Archives.
British military removing burned German corpse from knocked out Panzer IV tank. National Archives.
Dead Japanese soldier in advanced decomposition.  Perhaps this is what Old Man Jack tried to suppress in his recollection of "ID patrol".
Dead Japanese soldier in decomposition. Perhaps this is an example of what Old Man Jack tried to suppress in his recollection of his morbid experience in “ID patrol“.  US Marine Corps archives.
Two from the US Army 3rd Armored killed in action in France. National Archives.
Two from the US Army 3rd Armored killed in action in France. National Archives.
j pilot
Dead Kamikaze pilot. Notice the rubber glove on the US sailor’s right hand.  US Navy.
flame
Dated March 3, 1944

Perhaps some of the other “it” they saw involved civilians.

russ fem
Records related to this photograph of a slain young Russian female indicate the photo was taken from a dead German’s wallet.
PolandDeadSister
A description that was attached to this photo state a young girl is led away from her sister who was just killed.  Notice the camera in the old man’s hand.  He also sports some kind of arm band.

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So why these gruesome photos of carnage and violent death?

Are they REALLY necessary for you to see?

I believe so… and the preceding photos were relatively tame to be quite honest.  There are much more gruesome ones in private collections.  Old Man Jack had a collection but I only got a glimpse of ONE picture early in our relationship and it was of a severed Japanese head.  He never brought the photos out again.

But it’s important that Americans today understand “it” went to the hundreds of thousands of now silent US military graves… and “it” also remains tightly bottled up in the few surviving combat vets from WWII.

They have a right to keep “it” bottled up.  Vacuum sealed.  To keep their sanity although they relive and suffer horribly through “it” each night.

Field grave for an unknown US Marine.
Field grave for an unknown US Marine.  Some souls will never be identified.

Thousands of graves on a “stinkin’ island”… all killed in action.

Iwo Jima
Iwo Jima.  US Marine Corps.
saipan burial
Saipan burial of a Marine killed in action.
French civilians erected this silent tribute to an American solider who has fallen in the crusade to liberate France. Carentan, France., 06/17/1944
French civilians erected this silent tribute to an unknown American solider who has fallen in the crusade to liberate France. Carentan, France., 06/17/1944
waves1
Some souls will never be found.
margrat
Somewhere in northern Europe.
iwo jima cem
Like this torn photograph of an Iwo Jima battlefield cemetery, memories of young boys who lost their lives so violently are fading away.

___________________________

Memorial Day.

To remember those killed.

But without seeing, understanding or accepting the horrible demise these young fighting men encountered ending their short lives, the true meaning of Memorial Day is lost.

It is not truly about the combat vets alive today or who passed away since war’s end…  but they sure the hell are part of it.  Those alive mightily grip a key to their secrets – preventing your entry into their private internal hell.

__________________________

I will remember this when I visit the graves of Old Man Jack and Mr. Johnson this Memorial Day and will think of their fallen comrades.

And I will thank them and their unnamed buddies when I enjoy my barbequed hamburger this Memorial Day weekend and a cigar.

They died for me.

So I could enjoy my hamburger and cigar.

And I shall

A final, short tribute to those resting in graves today: