There is a little debate going on in the United States. Seems that since the advent of Social Media the question of what is respectable and not respectable on Memorial Day has cropped up every last Monday in May.
I would take a guess, that most of us (by now via social media and countless Media outlets) know that Memorial Day honors those soldiers who didn’t return from various battles we have fought over these 241 years. We mark the day with parades and tributes to honor our Fallen Soldiers.
However, it is seen as very improper to Thank a veteran. To the point it is almost seen as offensive by some in The United States.
I disagree. Yes, Veterans Day, November 11th, often called Armistice Day in other parts of the world, is the day we in the United States to thank those who have, and those who still, serve our country.
Yet one important thing to remember about Memorial Day, is that many who did not come back, did so, so that others could come back. For if it wasn’t through their sacrifice, many more would have never returned.
Incident on the North Field
Two things I want you to know about my father. One, he never wore a seatbelt unless absolutely forced to wear one. He always carried a pocket knife. These may seem incompatible, yet both of these traits all came down to one fateful day in 1945.
My father was a mechanic for the B-29’s during WWII. He served on the island of Tinian. This island, along with Saipan and Guam were used as airbases to launch B-29’s in the bombing of the Japanese Empire. Days were long, with periods of hectic activity in the early morning, and hours of waiting for the planes to return from their missions. My father said that when the planes returned near dusk, it would look like a floating city in the sky.
He, like many others, toiled away in a far off land. In hot humid conditions, far from loved ones and familiar faces. Many friendships were made on that island. Memories, both good and bad, were made there too.
He talked of the humorous things, guys that made go-carts to pass the time, and to have a little fun. Of the sad day they installed a curtain for the prisoners shower. Seems there was a young Japanese lady who liked to shower as the men headed to the airstrips every morning. Obviously to draw their attention away from their duties, and a little jab of what they were missing at home.
There was the ugly side too. Like the time he flew to Iwo Jima, sent there to repair a broken down B-29. It was three days after the island was secure, yet the plane they came in on was still shot at by Japanese soldiers, as they landed on the makeshift strip.
He arrived at Iwo Jima only to find a more gruesome sight. Bodies of Japanese soldiers, stacked like cord wood, and being buried by a bulldozer. Soldiers coming up to him with a jar of gold teeth. Humanity takes a backseat during times of great conflict. WWII was no different.
Yet of all these memories, all the things that happened during his tour of duty, one stuck out more than others. A plane crash.
I don’t know the plane, I don’t know the name of my father’s friend. I do know what happened. During take off, the plane lost an engine, the pilot tried to go around, but the plane crashed, upside down. My father, like others, rushed to the aid of their fellow airmen. Even so far as to, like my father, going inside the plane to get the crew out.
It was a mess, electrical wires everywhere, parts of the plane hampering their attempted rescue. All this, while the fuel leaked into the upside down fuselage. As this rescue was going on, my father found a friend, hanging upside down from his seat, stuck in his 5-point harness. My father didn’t have a knife. The seatbelt was stuck and would not release. The electrical wires began to arc and my father was standing in a pool of airplane fuel. He made a choice, and left.
The explosion would send my father airborne, some 20 feet down the runway. Yet…
That decision haunted him for the rest of his life. He would never wear a seat belt, never be found without a pocketknife.
My father would make it home from the war. Other’s on that island would not. While Tinian is known for being the island that the Enola Gay launched from on its fateful mission to drop the worlds first Atomic Bomb, it was an active airbase. Thousands of men were there, hundreds never came back.
And like my father, many came back but left something there. A part of them that they would never get back.
During that time, men and women we call The Greatest Generation, put everything they had to defeat the evil that was consuming the world. Many acts of heroism occurred. Even little acts. Like the time my father was saved from a propeller blade by an attentive British Indian Guard. He stopped the rolling ladder my father was on from being sucked into the propeller of an engine. The pilot forgot to check before he started it. It happens.
Not everyone made it home, those that did bear the memories of friends and comrades they lost. A part of them, will always be There. Kindred spirits, lingering among the headstones.
I agree, today is a day of remember our fallen heroes. A day to honor those who gave us our freedom, at the cost of their lives.
So, you should not thank a veteran. Yet, you should be Thankful, very Thankful, you can Thank a soldier, who helped our Veterans come home. They paid the ultimate price to do so.
Dedicated to the crew of The Big Wheel. Lost on March 30th, 1945. May they rest in peace.