My dad was a proud World War II veteran. Like most of his friends and young men in the 1940’s, Japan’s invasion of Pearl Harbor shocked him. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps (to eventually become the Air Force) in early 1942.
Dad rarely discussed his tour of duty defending our country. He saw plenty and did plenty, but was reluctant to ever talk about it. I think his contemporaries felt the same way. One day, before he became ill, I asked him flat out, “Dad, would you write your thoughts about your World War II experiences?” I told him I wanted a written account of his career in the military. I wanted a record of his own memories and experiences. He agreed. I thought after so many years he might not remember much. His mind was slowly slipping away. He was having trouble remembering lots of things.
But what he wrote surprised me to the core.
Dad wrote, from memory, every mission (19 total) he flew and the dates he flew them. He remembered the target and the details of every mission he and his crew flew. Dad was the radio man on a photo reconnaissance squadron. His crew flew in ahead of the combat missions to photograph the locations and areas around potential bombing targets. Dad and his crew flew missions out of Guam and several other South Pacific locations into Japan. On one or two missions they took anti-aircraft fire and feared for their lives.
Dad’s photo reconnaissance crew developed their own film. Dad asked my grandpa to send him a camera, which he did, and dad took more than 2000 personal pictures during his tour, many of them mission oriented. A typhoon pounded the base, however, and destroyed his pictures and everything else on the island. Dad said he escaped the typhoon with only the shirt on his back.
Dad was very proud of his service. He joined the American Legion when he returned from the war and was a faithful member and servant for 50 years. He earned a burial with full military honors, including a flag-draped coffin, taps and a 21-gun salute.
My dad was one of many honorable veterans in our family, including my grandfather, Uncle John and great uncles. I was proud to serve a tour in the Air Force during the Vietnam War in Selma, Alabama (uneventful as it may have been). I didn’t see combat like my dad, but served plenty of airmen and officers who had been in the thick of battle in the Vietnam War.
Dad is and will always be one of my heroes.
Many other sons my age can recall stories (different details, different missions, different theaters of war) about their fathers’ or uncles’ military service in World War II or Korea.
And today we have lots more veterans still serving here at home and far from home. Whatever our political views, or opinions about our United States military, we remain the most independent, blessed nation on the planet. We have all those who currently serve, have served, or died in battle to thank for that.
May God bless all our veterans and all the members of our active duty military today and forever, wherever they may be. And may God bless America.