I’m not sure how much of a big deal the for-profit media is going to make of today but here it is THE story. Today is the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which was the tipping point event that caused the United States to enter World War II. It is important to remember the event, but in the final analysis it is just another of many significant dates in history. Today what I really want to honor is America’s Greatest Generation!
I could tell World War II and Pearl Harbor stories until the cows came home. Some would be entertaining, many would be repetitious and all would pale in comparison to the achievements of mainly a bunch of scared kids many of who were children of the Great Depression and all of whom suffered through it.
Like most baby boomers my father was a World War II veteran. He lied about his age, dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Navy shortly after the outbreak of the war. He wasn’t particularly brave or patriotic. He knew it was his responsibility to do what was necessary to make the world safe for democracy. He wasn’t an admiral or a highly decorated hero; he was just another scared young sailor who felt fortunate to make it home intact.
My father was not given to telling his young son war stories. Now with the life experience of an old man I can look back to the 1950’s and assume that my father was just happy he was alive and be able to provide his young son with clothing, three squares and a home in the suburbs. We were far from wealthy but I never lacked anything I truly needed and my father earned the money that paid for it all. Today I want to share with you one of the few war stories he told me. He told it to me more than once and I’m certain he meant it as a lesson in life for me.
Here it is: It is about the first time he faced enemy fire. My dad spent his entire time in the Navy on gun crews. Most of the guns were anti-aircraft as is the one in this story. The gun crew consisted of mostly young kids and they were led by a guy of about 40. He seemed like an old man to the kids on the crew so he immediately earned the moniker Pops. Everyone stationed at this particular gun tub was a rookie including Pops. After heading out to sea they endured the drills and felt confident if not cocky. Sure as the sun comes up in the morning the general alarm sounds and it’s for real this time – they are under air attack. The crew, my dad included, takes their station and begins firing at planes that have one intention: sink the ship under their feet. (An interesting side note is that my father can’t swim.) They are literally fighting for their lives in a kill or be killed situation. Obviously, they repelled the attack.
Afterwards they went below deck and gathered together to drink a cup of coffee. After a period of some silence my father was the first to speak (a trait I evidentially inherited from him). He told the guys, “I hate to admit it but I got scared up there and pissed my pants.” Silence ensued for a bit. Then in a display of leadership Pops spoke up, “Well fellas, in case you were slipping around on any brown stuff on the deck it was me and it wasn’t chocolate.”
Baseball has always been my favorite sport. So I’ll leave you with an opinion and verbalize it via an old baseball expression: My father’s was the Greatest Generation; I and my contemporaries couldn’t carry their jocks!
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