Memorial Day

They return to my mind when I am doing remedial tasks — digging in the earth, washing the dishes, folding a shirt. They join me in the work of my hands, and stop by my subconscious and give a nod.  These Saints.  I remember their crinkled smiles, their warm handshake, and their good humor. Their stories come back to me.

I have been honored to have officiated at the graveside of many World War II Veterans. Every service for a World War II Veteran feels like one is standing over the grave of a rare butterfly.

“There’s not very many of us left,” they say.

All of these men were my parishioners and before they died, they were my friends. I would visit them in their hospital rooms or in their homes and we would begin to talk, and they would tell me their stories. Later, I would stand at the pulpit, looking down at an American flag draped over a mahogany casket and recount these stories for their families. Many of them did not know the stories of war, as the deceased would never talk about “it.” “I never knew that!” they would say. These men were fathers, husbands, gardeners, and craftsman. Above all, I remember them as being the kindest of men.

They were also solders and seaman. They were heroic. Although, you would be wise not to call them a hero. For there was always somebody who was more heroic than they, they would say.

Here are three stories:

Jim

World War 2 had a tremendous effect on me. I was 13 when my brother Dale went into the Army and 14 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I was old enough to know the world was in turmoil but too young to participate. This bothered me as it did many other boys my age. Immediately after the Pearl Harbor bombing Dale’s 35th Division was sent to the west coast where they set up artillery gun emplacements in the mountains above major cities because of a fear the Japanese would invade. This fear was well within reason; there were sightings of Japanese submarines off the coast (some real and some imagined — some were probably whales) and one incident in which a submarine lobbed some shells in the direction of San Francisco although nothing was hit.

Dale is seven years older than I and was away from home from the time I was 13. Because of the age difference and his absence while I was growing up we didn’t really get to know each other until a long time later. When I was being inducted in the Navy in Kansas City he was being discharged from the Army in forte Leavenworth, KS after four and a half years of active duty. So we got to really know each other only after I got out of the Navy in mid-1946, a period of nearly six years. Even then we mostly were together with the rest of the family or when building a garage or house addition for our parents. I often wish Dale and I had known each other better sooner. –Taken from Jim Potter’s Memoirs.

Jim enlisted in the Navy on the day the war ended. He served two years in the Navy serving in the Pacific. When he returned, he attended school at Hutchinson Junior college where he had an entry-level literature class. The teacher had them sit in alphabetical order. Jim Potter sat next to JoAnne Neumeyer.” Jim writes, “I had known her brother, Paul, a little but didn’t know he had a sister. She was pretty and bubbly, and It was sort of fun to sit beside her. We hit it off OK but there was nothing special about it. The course was taught by Miss Inez Frost, one of the nicest and best teachers I ever knew. She gave a short quiz every day over the assigned material. The quizzes were not hard – all you had to do was read the material. “For a while I finagled Jo into giving me answers so I could avoid studying. But then she got smart. She made me read the material every-other day and give her the answers. I don’t think we fooled Miss Frost a bit. I’ll bet she knew the whole class was doing this but she also knew she had a good percentage of the students reading the lesson material. Composition and report writing principles we learned in her class have been helpful to me all my life.”

The Junior college had celebrated May Day. It so happened there was a dance and Jim’s friend Howard Meyer, wanted to date one of her friends, Marian Robbins. Howard suggested Jim set up a “double date” and go to a dance put on by the Naval Reserve on May Day 1948. Jim invited Jo and she accepted, but she was playing an Arabian dancer in an Operetta so she couldn’t go until late. Jim went to the dance ‘til time to pick Jo up at the theater and took her home to remove the Arab make-up while he sat and visited with her parents. “Then,” Jim said, “we went to the dance, and danced, and had a good time.”

“We’re still dating.”

Two years later they were married.

Six weeks later, Jim got a letter from President Truman and was called back to serve in Korea.

Warren

Warren was born March 4, 1921 in Reinbeck, Iowa. He was the ninth of ten children. His parents both died before he was six years old and he was raised in Reinbeck by his older brothers and sisters.

He and his brothers and sisters lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I mean, literally lived off of them.  That’s all he had to eat for years.

Warren joined the Navy in 1940. He served in both the Mediterranean and South Pacific as the ship’s store keeper for seven years.

Bob

Bob enlisted in the Navy in 1943 at the tender age of 18. He served on the USS St. Lo and was stationed in the Philippines during World War II and was a recipient the Purple Heart. The St. Lo was a Casablanca-class escort carrier. And on October 25, 1944 St. Lo became the first ship to sink as the result of a kamikaze attack. The attack occurred during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. There were 889 men aboard, and Bob was one of those 434 survivors who fought the waves and held on with moral courage as he swam in the midst of sharks and wreckage to a rescue boat.

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That terrifying event in no way defined Bob’s life, but explains a great deal about his personality. He had an inner strength that drew people to him. A resoluteness. He seemed to have an understanding of what really mattered. For Bob the thing the mattered was family, friends and community. He was the most reliable of friends. And he understood what it meant to be a neighbor. People were just attracted to Bob and Eleanor. When the garage door opened and the lawn chairs came out, the neighborhood would come alive and people would stop what they were doing and come over and chat and laugh and be together, in a way that neighborhoods rarely are anymore.

Bob, or Park, as many people called him loved the Cubs, golf, the Hawkeyes, Hannah the Dog, Dolphin Island, Alabama, boats, good food, a good laugh and family.

These men, and so many others, stay with me. They keep me humble and remind me to keep things simple. They still visit me from time to time.  They make want to pull my lawn chair out and sit in the drive way, and watch the cars go by, as Bob used to do, or get out a deck of cards, as Warren would, or go out for a long walk as Jim often did.

I remember them today.

I salute their service.

I miss them always.

I close my eyes and whisper,

“See ya’ around…”

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3 thoughts on “Memorial Day

  1. As I read this post I thought of my own special WWII vet, my dad. Growing up I knew where his purple heart medal was, hidden away in the bottom drawer, but he also never talked about his war experiences. My mom and I read this tribute together last night and she shared with me her memories of dad’s experience. Thank you for making my Memorial Day so meaningful.

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