Monday, May 28, 2012

On Decoration Day

    Harry Briscoe, who makes fly rods and hunts for oil, in his warm and generous way sent thanks to me, of all people, for my service in WWII. I responded with the email below. Harry says that I should post it on this Decoration Day Sunday.
   And so, since I am nothing if not obedient, in or out of the Navy, here it is.

     Dear Harry, I bet you say those nice things to all the girls. 
     When I was close to being sent home, when the war was over in '45, I felt guilty that I had done little to help win the war. I had merely kept the stills cooking, making fresh water, for a Sea Bee outfit stymied on a tiny island in the Philippines. We were an outfit detached to rebuild wrecked rolling stock and commissioned for a longer war with fewer resources, but, in the end, the U.S. got ahead of the war, and so we were not needed after all-- not needed.
   I knew that when I got home this "education thing" (the GI Bill) was waiting. I was sure to reap greater benefits than I ever deserved. And such was the case. I have never ceased feeling that I owe the Nation a great debt. School teaching felt like an appropriate way to pay back the loan of my full life.
  You and my nephew-in-law send out similar gestures of thanks on this big spring holiday. Here in Boulder, the running of its popular foot-race shuts down access to the grave yards and the honored dead lying in them.  But I shall find a way through the blockades.
    I know some veterans who really deserve your kind thoughts; for instance, my 93 year old barber, Fred  Saiz.  But not I, Harry, not I. It may be fairly said of me that I followed orders, did mostly as I was told, and might well have been told to go another place and die-- as did my most excellent of  friends Ralph Metcalf in his first hour of combat on Luzon. I was, all the while, safe and sound down on little Calicoan cooking the salt out of sea water for my buddies to drink and wash their socks in.
   I was barely an 18 year old in a Naval Sea Bee outfit full of middle-aged construction men, the greatest of men, for whose association I am grateful beyond the power of telling. Had I not been given that war, I would never have been given those guys.
  And so, on Decoration Day, I wish I had been really useful and done something more than just privately memorable. Still, I am proud beyond the power of telling that I was part of it, ready to go, got there, and did my lowly job. I was among superb men.
   Back home, in the excitement of my undergraduate education, I felt I must somehow pay back for that education and the benefits accruing to it. I was obligated to the Nation I had served. I was obligated to its community and its welfare. I never got over it. That war was really something. There are things worse than war.
  Thanks for thinking of my good old ship-mates.

No comments:

Post a Comment