A Quiet Veteran

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My Dad was a “Navy Man”.

Better said, he served in the Navy. On the day of his high school graduation, he came home to find a draft notice waiting for him in the mailbox, and off he went.

He served in the Pacific theater, in places like Guadalcanal, and post-surrender Japan. But that is about all I know. He didn’t talk about it. He never claimed any veterans’ benefits, he never went to the VA hospital, he never wore a Navy hat. He didn’t cheer for Navy – only the Cougars and the Utes. (Depending on who was winning at the time.) He most definitely did not have an anchor tattoo on his shoulder. He did have an awesome Navy pea coat that I wore in college. (Seriously authentic vintage.)

Once in a while I would try and dig a little. He would usually change the subject. One time he did spill with a story about how he and his buddies would goof-off when they were in the city in Japan on shore leave. For yuks, a few of them would stand behind a car stopped at a light, and when the light turned, they would pick up the back end of the car, leaving it spinning its wheels in the air. The frustrated Japanese driver would stop the car, get out, and shoo the laughing sailors away. They would scatter while the driver got back into the car, and then return- just in time to lift it again.

That’s it – my only story of my father’s WWII Navy experience was him playing around with the vanquished locals.

My Dad passed away several years ago. He didn’t leave a written personal history, but my siblings and I were able to pry a lot of information and experiences out of him his last years. Still, when it came time to talk about war, he changed the subject. When asked why, he would say it was “boring”, or “there’s nothing much to tell”.

I don’t know if that is true or not, but I do know that whatever he experienced in WWII, he wanted to leave in the past. The lack of information makes me speculate:  Was it so rough that he didn’t want to share it? Was the Navy life something he would rather forget? Did he witness things he would rather leave forgotten?

He was a Veteran, but you would have never known. He was a Navy man. But, ahead of that, he was a husband, a father, a teacher, a church leader, a business man, and so many other things. Veteran was far, far down the list – because that is how he chose to define himself. He served, returned to his life, then went on a mission for 3 years and served the Lord. He talked about that service often, proudly, and fondly.

I miss him.

 

(Post originally published 11/11/11)

28 COMMENTS

  1. That is exactly how my grandpa was about his WWII service in the Army. Only after he had passed away and I returned from my mission in Germany, did my grandma give me a small scrapbook of pictures he had taken of things he had helped build during reconstruction with the Army Corps of Engineers, one of which being a bridge I had crossed almost every day in one of my areas. So bittersweet. I really appreciate all these “Quiet Veterans” and their service.

  2. My husband is also a Navy Man, he was (and still is) too military minded that he wouldn’t goof off. He hardly talks about his time in the Navy, but it is because of security reasons; maybe that was the same with you dad…speculating.
    Happy Veterans Day!

  3. Thank you for sharing this. My granddad also served in this part of the country while he was enlisted in the Naval Coastguard. He spent his time mostly in the Philippines, but also Japan, New Guinea, Australia, Okinawa, and the Aleutian Islands. As your Dad, he never spoke of it. Grandma always told me he wouldn’t talk of it because it was so painful and he didn’t want to remember the horrible things he saw. He died a hero in 1988 when he rescued his neighbor from a burning trailer house. The neighbor lived, but my granddad died from smoke inhalation.

  4. I think there’s something to be said for the veterans of the past who refused to indulge in their demons. With that said, of course, it would be nice to know their stories more personally. I think it would be hard not to understand what they went through; not to be able to talk of it. For that, I’m truly sorry. For your father’s death, I’m even more sorry. He sounds like an amazing man!

  5. Very touching, MMM!

    There is no US military service in my family history – just a grandpa who fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s.

    We have friends who are Navajo. His father passed away a few years ago. He had served as a Navajo code talker during WWII. At the funeral they received a surprise – family they had never met or knew about! Apparently his first wife during the war didn’t receive any letters from him, assumed he was dead and so remarried. When he returned from service he found his wife married to another man so he went on with his life and remarried as well. Only he never told his new wife and children! Quite a surprise.

  6. this post is tender and sweet. My grandpa was a pilot in WWII. He loved to tell stories. My favorite is one about how he loaned his watch to a buddy when went out on mission and never returned. His whole group pitched in their money to buy him a new watch. Another story he liked to tell was about when he got shot down…and died. There were always sound effect, etc, and it made us laugh.

  7. Both of my G’pa’s served in WWII as pilots. I have heard lots of stories about flying, but never really about the war. My uncle was a medic with the marines and gave his life while saving another man in Vietnam. Sadly, my dad and grandparents rarely talk about him. I recently found a beautiful photo album full of pictures that he had sent home during his tour. I know he loved Snoopy and I got my abilities to read multiple books at one time and to read and walk, from him.

  8. I love veterans, and I love dads. my grandpa served in WWII. He never talks about it either. I’ve wondered the same as you. Was it something he’d rather forget, or wants to leave behind.
    I am thankful for veterans. God bless America.

  9. What a very sweet post. My dad served in Vietnam and he, like yours, has passed away. He told very few stories but the ones he did tell were of life when they weren’t fighting. As a kid I loved those stories and still treasure them today. Thank you for sharing.

  10. I wonder if the experience with war is deferent depending on whether you you’re a civilian in a war zone, a civilian drafted to be in a military like your dad, or a professional military person. For a lot of civilians who were drafted war was probably very traumatic. I don’t know if many of them had an aptitude for shooting, were initially ok with killing, had better tolerance of danger like many professional military people do. But even some professional military people are so traumatized by what they saw; they don’t want to talk about it. I see returning military people often as a therapist and most of the modern approaches to trauma treatment don’t even require describing things because describing is retraumatizing to them. I also hear form veterans that they don’t feel that anyone can ever imagine or understand what they saw or went through. I can sort of understand that, because the majority of people in the US have never seen war, gravely injured people , kids, never heard explosions near them and their families. But it’s true that in a war, even nice and brave people are always in danger of committing a horrible crime they will never forget because of how sudden everything is. My own stories of war (WWII) came from my grandparents, who at the time were teenagers in Nazi occupied Belarus. Belarus suffered very much then, 25% of the population were killed. The impression I got from them, kids in a war zone, is that war is about gore, confusion and tragedy. Three of my grandpa’s brothers died as kids on the same day from a bomb that exploded on them—they were just playing and didn’t see it. And that was not the most horrible way to die that they saw, I won’t go into details. At 15, my grandpa helped Russian soldiers connect with local members of resistance who lived in a forest in a swampy area (that alignment of local resistance and army was what provided success in liberation of Belarus in 1943). Interestingly, besides all the awful things I heard about Nazis, there were also another kinds of stories about some German soldiers. Like when one German soldier stopped another soldier when he wanted to kill my grandma because she looked sort of Jewish. My grandpa told me a story of when the Nazis took their last cow (it was right before winter, they had 9 kids and they knew they would die from hunger). My grandpa ran to the only German soldier he sort of knew a little, who talked to him a little sometimes. That soldier brought their cow back. Then, when he went on his schedule leave to Germany, he brought two suitcases of warm cloths and gave them to my grandpa’s family. It is so strange to think of all of it. The war is always a tragedy and so often it just brings the worst in people. But I’m also so grateful for the kindnesses that happened. That’s why I think I understand why your dad wanted to talk more about the Gospel than about war.

  11. I had a taxi driver who served in Vietnam and he said the reason he doesn’t talk about it is because his job was to endure the things he experienced so we wouldn’t have to ever know just how evil men can be. That by not telling those stories he was continuing to protect the people around him.

  12. The things you write are great, really great. It’s hard not to laugh at what you way, and agree with you.

    I think that is why I am bothered by your blog. You are getting a lot of followers, including me. I think because you write so many wonderful things, and influence so much… you are dangerous.

    You and all the other bloggers that opine about the church and it’s teachings. But you do it under a cloak of “I might be your home teacher”.

    If you can’t say it as you… should you be saying it?

    OK, I will shut up, and let the spammers attack me. (I am one that can’t keep my mouth shut.)

    🙂

    But think about it. I want to not only like what you say, but trust you… like so many of you other readers do.

    Your Pal,
    Anthony Romrell 🙂

    P.S. I love you more the ever. Really.
    DC 121:43

  13. Anthony: You have zeroed in on one of my most difficult decisions about being a blogger. I have written about it several times, and even put my anonymity out there for a vote. For right now, I have decided to keep the anonymity. Please go back and read why – it will help you understand where my head, and heart, are.

    Thankfully, you have the privilege of the Spirit to help you discern of I am speaking the truth or not. If feel I am not – please tell me – and please don’t read. If you feel me dangerous, spread the word!

    I am not your church leader. I am just a guy with opinions. But, I am glad you are reading, and I will try to never betray that trust.

  14. Love this post. From someone who also misses a Dad… He worked undercover for the CIA for 35 years and wouldn’t or couldn’t talk about most of his experiences either. But I know, as with your father, that the story within the story – left unsaid – is/are the reasons that we are able to enjoy all that we have now. May we be forever grateful.

  15. thanks for sharing..we too had not much info from family members, many couldn’t talk about it, others just chose not to, and at my uncles funeral was when I learned he had won medals including the Order of the British Empire! I am grateful to all who serve everywhere, in all countries!

  16. My dad was in WW2 in Europe. He was injured within his first year and was awarded not only the Purple Heart but the Bronze Star also. When asked why he didn’t talk about his war experiences he said “Why would I want to relive some of the worst days of my life”. He was 18 when he got injured. He went right from High School into the army. I imagine a lot of young men grew up in a hurry during these times.

  17. My father was a Marine and served in Korea. He has never said much about it, mostly just abt the cold, heat, and general misery of “camping” for a yr, and abt the orphaned camp followers that the soldiers kept clothed and fed. Less than a yr after his return he met and married my mother. She said that for the first months they were married, if she accidently bumped him when he was asleep, he would waken w/ a yell.

  18. I have found that most military men that actually saw things that were tragic, don’t talk about them, except with their “brothers;” which in my case, really are my brothers. We had a conversation around mom’s kitchen table one day only to discover mom standing in the door way, with a face as white as a sheet.
    Even though I want to, I find it hard to share many of my experiences with my EC…because I prefer to not relive what I have seen. She spent 26 years as an Army wife! I remember walking around the St. George temple grounds one night (during a 14 day break) and just crying my eyes out because I didn’t know how to share the love of the Savior with people that I was charged with trying to stop from killing each other in horrendous ways. I was sitting on the steps of the Lord’s house fully aware of what was offered inside, and recalling the terrible things that people can do to each other. That is hard to reconcile. It doesn’t create a crisis of faith, just sorrow for those who refuse to understand and a greater understanding of the influence of the adversary in this world.

    Although we have a lot of service in our family, only this generation has a few who chose to make a career out of it. In doing family history research, I found it interesting that my direct ancestors were major contributors or started nearly every western war from the Battle of Hastings to the American Revolution. The only war we “missed” out on up to the present was the American Civil War. I also found it surprising and pleasing that in my direct ancestry, we have over 40 veterans identified between the French and Indian war to the present. There are many who have been wounded and lost siblings, but in my direct ancestry, not a single life has been lost in the defense of freedom.

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