Today is Memorial Day. Well technically it isn’t until May 31st but we are celebrating it this weekend. Of course, this is a day to remember those who have passed on, especially veterans of the armed services. And more importantly, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, their lives.
My father was a WWII veteran. He served in the Navy, enlisting in 1944 right after he graduated from high school. He was shipped to Texas and placed aboard a destroyer, the USS Hawkins, DD873. When we were younger he told us how he single-handedly won the war. He told us how he went to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and was headed over to Japan and the war ended. As he told it, they found out he was coming and they gave up.
I remember the year before he passed, the summer of 1999, he asked me if I would like to go with him to meet up with a couple of his shipmates in Gettysburg, PA, He hadn’t seen them in over fifty years. I remember my mother was always telling him he should go to the various reunions, but he always refused. It was the same when I would ask him to take a ride to Fall River’s Battleship Cove and tour the WW II destroyer they have there, the DD850, so almost the same ship as he was on, but he wouldn’t go. So it surprised me when he asked me to go to this mini-reunion.
Words can’t explain the emotions that were flowing when he met two of his friends, nor the emotions I felt. I was never in the Armed Forces but having been in the fire service, I can understand the feeling you have towards your brothers-in-arms who you put your life in their hands and theirs in yours. I do want to share one story from that trip, something I will never forget. I think this says a lot about that generation especially, but also about those who serve in any of this great country’s armed forces.
It was the last night they were together and I asked them about an incident that happened on their ship when they left Pearl Harbor and were headed to an unknown location across the Pacific. As they were in the convoy headed that way there was a fire aboard their ship, I believe it was in an electrical room at the rear of the ship. Even though the captain didn’t want to go back to Pearl, insisting to his boss that all was good, they had to turn back to Pearl. Both the Captain and the sailors were not happy about it. They didn’t name the battle only saying that there were a lot of guys who never came back. In looking at the history of the ship there is no record of the fire or where they might have been going. When the ship was finally repaired and they went to Japan, the war was over.
I asked two questions about the fire. The first I asked jokingly, “Which one of you guys started the fire?” After blaming each other and some of their non-present mates, they all came to the agreement that it was indeed accidental. The mood became somber and the talked about how had they not turned around they would have been in a battle and may not have come back. That led to my second more serious question: “Knowing now how the battle turned out, would you still have wanted to go” To a man they all said, “Yes, and they would go today if they had to.”
I have to wonder how many people would say that today. I know there are some who would go without question but would the others go for the same reasons? To fight for the way of life our freedom gives us? The very same freedoms that seem to be eroding more and more every day?
So today and every day, thank a vet for being the one who stands up and puts it all on the line for our country, the United States of America. And may you rest in peace. to those who may have served with my Dad on the USS Hawkins, may you rest in peace and thank you.