Monday, May 26, 2008

My earliest memory of soldiers

Handmade Japanese prisoner of war bracelet with inscription "Guam 1946" and center heart bearing an image of a palm tree overlooking a serene beach scene (just months earlier washed in the blood of American and Japanese soldiers. [Click to enlarge]) In the background is a ceramic urn with a remarkable resemblance to an alien space ship made from clay containing my deceased brother's ashes.


My very earliest memories of soldiers were the ones that hit closest to home. Born during World War II, I was the third son of the family, separated from my older brothers by nearly 18 and 19 years respectively. My oldest brother left home only months after I was born. Just out of high school, he was drafted and sent off to Europe; to England first, then France. Being a teletype operator, he never saw combat, although he was never far behind it.

I only remember a couple of his war stories. Like the charming English lass he met and shared dinner with a couple of times in her family's home, followed by singing around their family piano, trying to escape for a few moments into the pre-war memories of peace which then seemed then so distant. It was a classic romance tale of missed opportunity, of what might have been.

I enjoyed his recollection of D-Day as he saw it from the shores of England, recalling how the skies were blackened with steady streams of allied aircraft heading out across the Channel.

Or after shipping over to the Continent, there was the night in France when he ran into the back of a German tank! I always laughed at that one. Seems it was a very dark night and he was on foot and the tank turned out to be a derelict destroyed some weeks earlier by the allies. (I don't remember if he was on his way home from an evening of a little too much celebrating.)

My other brother, younger by a year and a half, hung around home a little longer until drafted just as the war in Europe was winding down. He ended up in the Pacific, on Guam. And like my other brother, he, too, missed combat, guarding Japanese prisoners of war instead.

Developing an excellent rapport with the "Japs," he had primo handmade Japanese jewelry he brought home with him after the war, crafted from scrap pieces of B-29's or any other war materiel I imagined he could slip them for their beautiful transformations into bracelets and rings, each marked with dates and places from the horrors of that war.

Luckily, unlike tens of thousands of others not as fortunate, they both came home from that great war. I was able to know them, to look up to them and in some cases idolize them as I grew up.

I lost both of those brothers within the last ten years or so. The incredible hand made Japanese jewelry is now in my possession.

Neither of my brothers are "residents" of national cemeteries scattered throughout the land that annually sprout little American flags on this weekend. As they wished, each was cremated and their remains scattered in beautiful locations by their baby brother, each time with the aid of an intimate family group.

And I always recall at this time of year as a small child - after being the center of my parents attentions my earliest years while my brothers were away "at war," of the first time one returned home. It was my brother from Guam.

Eyeing him as the threat he now represented for the attentions of Mom and Dad, I one day had the audacity of a young child to speak up and ask of our returned 'warrior,' "Why don't you go back to the Army!"

Thankfully, I came to realize, that was something he didn't have to do.

"Happy Memorial Day, Bros!"



I decided to include this photo out-take as reminder of how little is accomplished here at Dada's without the tireless
behind-the-scenes efforts of my Editor Sam, shown here helping me set up this morning's photo shoot for this blog.


horsedooty said...

I like Sam's input to the photo. Looks like you have a great helper there Dada.

¡yo soy Horsedooty!

eProf2 said...

This was a very personal post about your family on this national holiday. Thanks for sharing.

Being the oldest in my family with parents who were in their thirties and late twenties when I was born I don't have very many memories or stories to relate to from WWII. My uncles all served in the war but we didn't see them very often post war because we lived on the east coast at the time and they spread out across the mid-west and west.

My one recollection is of a young veteran who came home from the war "shell shocked." Today we probably call it PTS. This young man had completely lost it and walked around yelling at people on the street and covering his face from the slightest distraction. He was a loved family member of a neighbor so the locals pretty much accepted him for who had become as a result of war. He didn't have a job so his family supported him for a lot of years. Parents who didn't know him would tell their children to stay away as he might snap and do violence to them. That wasn't the case, but it meant people avoided him whenever possible. We moved to the west coast ourselves several years later so I can't tell you what became of this fellow who served his country but wasn't well served by strangers who didn't have the slightest idea as to why he was the way he was from war.

Fortunately, more veterans come home ok than not; however, those who do suffer from their trauma deserve all the help they can get.

With all the wars the US has been involved in since 1941, we are paying for them a hundred times over the initial costs. Today we cite the data, as you have done, and think the costs have already been borne: numbers dead; numbers wounded; et cetera. We will be paying for our current war involvements for a long, long time, longer than any government official is willing to say or even talk about. We've got to find a way to stop or at least slow down this madness. But, like you, I don't have a clue as to what to do as I see and hear so many people opposed to our war policies but most shrug and say, like I just did, how do we stop it?

Sorry for going on so long.

enigma4ever said...

really beautiful are a good brother to honor them and their memories...peace to you this memorial day ....and thank you for your service...