The War Years
This part of my story chronicles my memories of the dark years of World War II and, by epilogue, a summary of the principal events in my life after I went on inactive duty with the Naval Reserve late in 1946. Once again I have relied on my memory and a few personal records and photographs. I have attempted to avoid embellishment of any sort.
My contribution to combat was minimal and I was not awarded medals other than for campaigns, areas served in, and a Good Conduct medal. I was very proud, however of my honorable service in the Navy. I am also inordinately proud of the fact that when the surprise Japanese attack came on December 7th 1941, my brother and I did not run away to hide but found a weapon and started shooting back while our base and our airplanes were bombed and shot to pieces around us.
We did not stop to consider that it was an historic event. We were simply thoroughly enraged and wanted to strike back at the enemy that had suddenly appeared out of a peaceful Sunday morning Hawaiian sky. We do not consider ourselves heroes—we were simply doing what the Navy had been training us to do. We do not consider ourselves particularly brave (we knew the acrid metallic taste of fear in our dry mouths) but we did what we could. I believe I can be excused for being proud of that.
How did it leave me feeling about war? That is not an easy question to answer because there are different kinds of war and different justifications for restoring to force. I am happy that I was in the last truly justified war—World War II. It was brought on by evil aggressive leaders (specifically Adolf Hitler in Germany and Tojo in Japan) ambitious to conquer the world and beat all other races into submission or extinction. If the Axis powers had won, personal freedom would have vanished from the face of the earth.
I did not feel that the Korean War in the early 1950s was justified. I am a believer in the natural law of survival of the fittest. I felt that North and South Korea should have battled it out without intervention for either side and the nation should have been unified with the strongest side in power. I am a patriotic American, however, and I would have gone and fought my best if my government had ordered me to go.
The war in Vietnam was something else. As Phyllis can attest, I was opposed to it from the beginning. Even so, I would have gone and fought had I been younger and my commander-in-chief said “go”. I have no patience with draft dodgers and cowards that slink away to Candad or Mexico rather than serve in the armed forces. There is no reason for that except plain old cowardice. As for Vietnam, I felt that it was worthless to the rest of the world and should be left to wallow in its own communist mess without outside intervention.
There is nothing glorious about war even when it is justified. It is not flags waving and bugles blowing—it is blood, dirt, smoke, fire, deadly steel and lead, the concussion of blasts, and the torn and bloody bodies of friends and shipmates.
War can be justified only by a real threat to world peace. For that reason I backed and applauded our participation in the Gulf War to stop Saddam Hussien who would have liked to become a latter-day Adolf Hitler. We claim to have won because we ran the Iraqis out of Kuwait, but actually, Kuwait was not worth it. We lost because we did not drive on in to Baghdad and hang Saddam Hussien for the aggressive war criminal that he is. Kuwait is not important (the world seems to be getting along fine without Kuwaiti oil) but world peace must always be our goal.
We must not become complacent because, with the collapse of communism in Russia, we seem to be facing an era of world peace. As long as there is more than one nation on this shrinking little planet Earth, there can be reasons that world peace is threatened.
It is my hope that, if in the time of your life, the time comes to go to war you will go and serve honorably under our red, white, and blue star-spangled flag. Go where you have to go and do what you have to do when you get there. I want to be very, very proud of all of you.
[My father wrote his memoir in ’89-90 when world peace seemed a possibility. He was frail and dying by September 11th. It was like Pearl Harbor all over again, only on American soil this time. That fall our family had a little reunion in Ilwaco, my Aunt Sandra and Uncle Jerry having brought my father and step-mother Phyllis down for what was his last trip to his beloved sea. Even as a pacifist I have to say I was pleased when my uncle came into the house and said that we’d struck Al Qaida in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, I don’t agree with my father about Iraq. He did not live to see that debacle drag on to what it has become. I predicted that we would miss Saddam Hussein because he was all that was keeping the lid on things. We cannot impose democracy on another country that has no concept of it. Other than that, I think my father and I agreed on the nature of war. I know that he loved and was proud that my fiancé was in the Navy during Vietnam.]