By W.H. WATERS
I know the Fourth of July has come and gone. Regardless, the happenings for me remain and it was so good I say to myself will I, a veteran nearing my 86th year, will I live to see another?
I have never been one who waves the flag all the time. I am one who feels the call to honor every time I see it fly or see it passing by. This the flag you always want to see when in harm’s way. When you have John Phillip Sousa’s marching songs your heart cries out “America Forever.” When “Stars and Stripes Forever” is played your old feet feel young and ready to march as they did in days of yore. America is a beautiful land and so the song “America, the Beautiful” lives in your heart.
Tom Brokaw has been so kind to our generation. My son gave me a DVD of “The Greatest Generation.” For six hours we sat and listened to one veteran after another describe events that they lived through. You know who the real heroes are when you relive those events with them.
All the people who suffered were not in the Armed Forces. Norman Swanson and his brother went to work in an American shipyard to make money to go to college. After four months, the Japanese took the island and they were prisoners of war. These men were treated badly. In Japan, they worked with Japanese civilians. The Japanese felt sorry for them shared food even though it was scarce for them. Norman said, “I would not have survived without their concern.” He wept as he spoke and said, “I tried to locate them after the war but without success.”
Wake Island we did not try to retake. My ship passed within sight of the anti-aircraft fire that occurred when our Air Force bombed the island as convoys passed not far away.
The Japanese took Pearl Harbor by surprise and then moved through the Philippines and as far as Guadalcanal in four months. They were ready to take Australia if they could secure Guadalcanal and build an airport. It did not happen!
Our army in the Philippines was driven to Bataan. General MacArthur evacuated and General Wainwright took command. The battle was terrible and there was nothing but surrender. These men paid a horrendous price. Three of these men spoke on Brokaw’s DVD. Omar McGivon spoke of the terrible death march. Bill Grunip spoke of old “Bill Bud” prison. He told of how they were tied together and beaten with pick handles to the point it was hard to move at all.
I was in that prison after the Philippines were retaken. I picked up bits of skull with hair and smelled a stench of human flesh that even now comes through to me.The third Bataan prisoner was Clarence Graham. He described his terrible two-month trip to Japan in an old ship with little food nor did they have much water. Men died from the heat. He survived and was sent to the mines near Nagasaki.
Sergeant Fiske was a young Marine at Pearl Harbor. He described his reaction to the attack by the Japanese. He simply didn’t believe what he saw and he rather laughed at it. He went through the war and when they were staying for Iwo Jima a Marine general called him and appointed him as assistant platoon leader. He knew what he was in for. He described how the battle for Mt. Suribachi took four days and the great cost in lives. He and his men were down below but could move little until Mt. Suribachi was secured. Then for 34 more days they fought, bled and died. Near the end they lost more than 300 men in three hours taking a hill fortified with tunnels on the other end of the island.
What was the story of Iwo Jima? Twenty-five thousand Japanese killed. More than 300 Japanese prisoners taken. Five thousand ninety-two Marines were killed and more than 17,000 wounded. He said “Never have I seen so many dead Marines and dead” Japanese. This man smiled when talking of Pearl Harbor, but after the battle of Iwo Jima he was near tears. Gray, a Marine, looked at him and asked “Sarge, is it worth it?” Sarge said, “I don’t know but we sure lost a whole lot of buddies. Why did we do it? Those were our orders.”
I have only touched the hem of the garment for the Pacific war. Let me give you one man’s experience from Europe. There were so many.
Glenn Black on a bombing mission from Corsica. As he took his bomber through heavy flak, he heard an explosion. He looked down and his right hand was gone. He turned control to the co-pilot. He retook control when the co-pilot did not perform well. The navigator gave him first aid. He got two morphine shots. There was 100 octane fuel everywhere and it was too low to bail out and there was no landing gear. It seemed becoming a fireball at landing was likely. With great precision he landed and they survived, all with his left hand.
Let me say that this DVD made me proud. If anyone believes that this war was not monstrous when compared to others, they are surely thinking badly. Sixteen million of us went into service. Only 150 million people lived in America at that time.
I encourage you to get these DVDs of Tom Brokaw and listen to the heroes speak.
I know that when you die in battle for this land, you surely have done your duty. I hope you are never sent unless it is a last resort.
God bless America.
Editor’s Note: Mr. W.H. Waters is a resident of Lebanon and a contributor to The Wilson Post.