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May 31, 2010

Memorial day vignettes

When I was a very small boy some of my first memories are of a neighbor, Jake, who was in his 70's. Jake was a WWI vet who'd been mustard gassed in one of those meat grinder battles of WWI. He moved a little slow for a guy in his 70's because he had a collapsed lung and the other one wasn't perfect either due to the Mustard gassing.

My dad was Navy in WWII and worked the electrical maintenance of a LST. He got the all expenses paid tour of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. He never talked much about the war, but when he did it was still an emotional thing for him 50+ years later.

Apparently, as the Army and Marines pushed forward, Navy guys maintained much of the logistics tail. One story he told on rare occasion was of a 900 mile forced drive across North Africa driving a deuce and a half full of ammo. 3 days, 7x24 with no sleep through treacherous mountains on a twisting one lane dirt road. Any trucks that broke down weren't repaired, they were just shoved off the cliff and the convoy kept moving. Several trucks drove off the cliff accidentally when the drivers could stay awake no longer and fell asleep at the wheel. That convoy affected him so deeply, for the rest of his life my dad had a strong aversion to driving any significant distance.

Another story dad would rarely tell, and always with tears in his eyes, was of a cave near a small vacated town outside Naples. The Army and Marines had pushed forward and he was assigned guard duty at the port. During off hours, the sailors would wander about the countryside seeing what was to be seen. During the German retreat, they'd apparently blown up the mouth of this cave and the ground troops sweeping through never bothered to look inside. My dad and his pals did...and they discovered why the little town was vacant. The contents of the cave was the townspeople...all neatly shot in the back of the head. The Germans had blown the entrance to try and hide the atrocity.

And then there's Nick. Nick was a pilot and flew B29's. One day his bird couldn't make it home and crash landed on a Japanese held island that wouldn't be taken by us for some time. He lived off the jungle during the interim. There were Japanese soldiers hunting him and his crew survivors the whole time. One got too close one day and Nick wound up having to kill the Japanese soldier quietly with a knife. A strange look would come over his face as he told that story and he just shake his head in sorrow...the Japanese "soldier" was only a young boy 15 or 16 years old.

One of the local farmers, a guy named Van, was a friend of my dads. He was a gunner on some sort of bomber and took a round in the leg one day. The fates were with him that day; it was a tracer and cauterized the wound on the way through and he didn't bleed out. The proverbial million dollar wound.

All of these guys are gone now. RIP.

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posted by Purp at 02:31 AM

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