coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day: Honoring My Father

My Dad served in the Pacific during World War II aboard the troop supply ships U.S.S. Starlight, and the U.S.S. Wharton.  He enlisted in early 1943, and he was discharged late in 1947 after serving 4 years, 8 months, and 3 days. He was a Machinist Mate 1st class, and he participated in the Battle for the Liberation of the Philippines in January 1945.  One of the hallmarks of this particular battle was the Japanese introduction of kamikaze pilots.  Kamikaze is a Japanese word meaning "divine wind" and these suicide pilots sank 17 U.S. ships and damaged 50 more in the battle for Luzon in the Philippines as they flew obsolete planes into American ships, hoping to do considerable damage to the U.S. fleet. 

As a machinist, Dad worked below in the ship.  He remembered hearing a kamikaze plane hit the ship next to his, which sunk as a result of the attack.   He said it was extremely loud and the ship he was on shook so much that he thought it was his ship that had been hit.  I can only imagine the claustrophobic fear he felt in those long, lonely moments thinking they were trapped in the belly of the ship.  When he realized it was another ship that was hit, he ran up 3 flights of stairs to see what was happening.  Men from the damaged ship were jumping into the water to escape the fire on board.  My father volunteered to help rescue them and spent the rest of the day pulling men both living and dead out of the Pacific.  

One rescued man was burned over 90 percent of his body.  Although he did not know the man, Dad volunteered to stay by the man’s side.  For three full days and nights he stayed with the stranger, changing his bandages and simply not leaving the man alone with horrible pain. 

After the war ended my father also volunteered to be present for the atomic bomb testing at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, which began in July 1946.   When asked why he would do such a thing, he replied that it seemed like it would be an interesting experience.  He also said it was beautiful.  

He received the following medals: The Asiatic Pacific (with 4 stars); the American Area Medal; the Victory medal; the Philippine Liberation Medal (with 2 stars); and the Navy Unit Commendation Medal.

My Dad died of congestive heart failure on Veterans Day, November 11, 1996, immediately after he finished singing “It’s a Grand Old Flag” in front of his cronies at a senior citizen’s luncheon.  He finished his song, stepped down off the stage, and immediately had a fatal heart attack.  It certainly scared the other old folks, but it was the kind of death I would have wished for him – quick and painless.  Not a bad way for an old sailor to go!

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