I asked Hearne if I could pen this tribute to my Grandfather and Father, and to your families Military Veterans living and dead on this Memorial Day.
This is their story.
Ninety-ive years ago on May 26th, 1917, my Grandfather Charles, a Marine disembarked in France to win the war "over there". Some 20 days later, he found himself in a charnel house known as Belleau Woods. Sustaining machine gun wounds in the stomache and mustard gassed, his full measure of devotion, was brief and bloody, although he survived his wounds until after the war. Descriptions of the battle seem, to me, understated in view of the astonishing casualties.
"Overall, the woods were attacked by the Marines a total of six times before they could successfully expel the Germans. They fought off parts of five divisions of Germans, often reduced to using only their bayonets or fists in close combat."
"On his right, the Marines of Major Meyer’s 3/6 Battalion swept into the southern end of Belleau Wood and encountered heavy machine gun fire, sharpshooters and barbed wire. Marines and German infantrymen were soon engaged in heavy hand-to-hand fighting. The casualties sustained on this day were the highest in Marine Corps history to that time. Some 31 officers and 1,056 men of the Marine brigade were casualties. However, the Marines now had a foothold in Belleau Wood."
At Belleau Woods U.S. forces suffered 9,777 casualties, included 1,811 killed. Many are buried in the nearby Aisne-Marne American Cemetery.
Seventy years ago, on May 26th 1940, my father Leonard was preparing on board the USS New Orleans for the Battle of Midway (June 6th 1942.). Previously, Leonard was being processed out of the Navy at Pearl Harbor’s Schofield Barracks on Dec. 7th 1941 and had one more week to serve. After the Japanese attack, Uncle Sam decided that it just wouldn’t be party without Leo, and he was extended indefinitely.
My entire family is lucky like that.
After surviving the Battles of Coral Sea, Midway and Eastern Solomons Leonard ran up against it at the Battle of Tassafaronga. A Japanese torpedo took the bow off of the ship and with it, my dad’s best friend along with 200 others. The New Orleans had to sail backwards at a speed of one knot into Sydney Austrailia for repairs through enemy waters. No one slept.
Check out the picture of my dad’s ship.
Finishing his service as a Chief Water tender (Snipe) Leonard was in 10 Naval engagements under fire and was mustered out at the end of the war. He was proud of his service and actually shot down a Japanese Zero when all the guys on the starboard gun mount were killed. I think he said it was a .50 Cal.
My dad didn’t make a big deal about Memorial Day, May 26th was also my brother’s birthday and pop was more interested in the future than the past. So, we rarely talked about his War Time experience until late in his life. When we did, he recounted his experiences with a clinical detatchment that seemed to me an effort to protect anyone hearing his story from the real horrors he had seen. He was descriptive in general, but reserved in detail.
Those kids coming home today from Iraq and Afghanistan, processed through Walter Reed, or feet first in a box might feel the same way.
In our involvement in foreign wars over the last 100 years we have seen success and failure, but the one constant promised by Churchill still rings true – that it’s blood, tears, toil and sweat . That crucible borne by those veterans of our freshly remembered past and those young men and women who risk their lives today, should be honored and revered, no matter our political differences and personal preferences.
I was hoping, that maybe the kcconfidential community, might take a minute away from the bar b que and parties to share some of their own familial experiences, personal or otherwise in honor of our fallen comrades in arms.
God Bless America, God Bless You and Your Families this Memorial Day.