Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend

We have reached that milestone on the calendar where we switch daily routines to summer mode. If there are any of us who still follow the rules, we can start wearing white. It’s time to think of sun tan lotion and sunglasses. While all of this is true, this is Memorial Day and for me it is the time to remember our servicemen and women who gave their lives in the defense of our country.

Left: USS Scorpion (SSN-589) I suppose, being of a certain age, gives me a somewhat unique view of history. I can relate to the veterans of WW II as easily as I can to those of the most recent and longest war that our country has fought. Far off in the mists of time, there are a few memories handed down by my grandfather’s generation about WW I. While I was in the Navy Reserves for six years during Vietnam, I never saw action. My experience was a cold war one, running anti submarine drills in the North Atlantic. There were two times when it got real; once, aboard the Guided Missile Cruiser USS Little Rock (CLG-4) we chased a Soviet nuke in the Atlantic for a couple of days, and the second time, in May of 1968, while aboard the USS Soley (DD-707), we searched for the US submarine Scorpion (SSN-589) one of the two Nuclear Submarines we lost during the cold war. While exciting times to remember, the danger came nowhere near that experienced by our soldiers, airmen and sailors who actually fought in active theaters of war. Those of you who did see action have my eternal gratitude.

Left: USS Soley (DD-707) It wasn’t often, but on some occasions, my uncles would open up about their war experiences. My Uncle Matt, was with General Patton and the Seventh Army during the Invasion of Sicily on the beaches at Gela, Scoglitti and Licata despite being hampered by wind and weather the U.S. infantry divisions involved, the 3rd, 1st, and 45th, secured their respective beaches. Uncle Matt talked about fighting across the fields of Italy and the more difficult urban warfare in the towns and villages as they moved northward after repulsing the counterattack at Gela. He was in the group to reach Messina ahead of Montgomery. Sometime after his passing, we discovered his photo album which contained grainy black and white images of what it was like; hard, dirty and messy. But they got the job done.

My Uncle Harlo was a Sea-Bee. A sea-bee is a member of the United States Navy Construction Battalion (CB) from whence the name came. He was one of the original members when they were founded. He spent the war in the Pacific Campaign. His stories were of building runways on the islands of the South Pacific, most notably New Zealand and New Guinea. It was hot dangerous work often begun before the islands were cleared of enemy snipers. He would be out there driving a bulldozer with his rifle on the rack behind his seat. Occasionally when they came under sniper fire, he would turn his bulldozer in the direction from where the fire came, raise his bulldozer blade for cover and return fire until the anti-sniper teams could clear out the resistance.

My Uncle John joined the Navy when the war started and spent his time on board aircraft carriers working on the fighter aircraft to keep them battle ready. He was in several of the major battles of the Pacific Campaign and was involved in fighting off several kamikaze attacks on the fleet. During the campaign he fought with anti-aircraft guns and on the damage control teams that fought the fires when the enemy got through the defensive fire. His stories were ones filled with blue skies filled with fast moving danger, salt water spray and flames. He remained in the Navy after the war and eventually retired from the Navy as a mustang Lieutenant Commander. It was through him that my choice to serve in the Navy was born.

My Uncle Jack enlisted in the Army Air Corps late in the war and went through training at Tyndall Field near Panama City Florida to be a tail gunner on a B-24. In case you were wondering, he was not in Clark Gable’s class in 1943. His was one of the last classes to go through training there in early 1945, by time he graduated, the war in Europe was over and he completed his service in the states.

So, thanks to the real heroes and to the reason we remember them on Memorial Day. Yes it is a weekend of picnics, barbeques and the beginning of summer. But it is also a reminder that freedom is not free. Not a celebration, but a day of honor for those who have fought and given it all. To lives well lived! Oh MY!

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