I am proud to say that my Father served overseas in the US Army in World War II. My father would dismiss any sense of pride in what he did. It is just what young American men did in the 40’s – fought a war to end Imperial Japan’s hold on the Pacific and crush Hitler’s Nazi war machine. What’s the big deal? That was his attitude.
Father died in 2001 at the VA hospital in Menlo Park after a string of strokes and related health problems. He wasn’t an old soldier, but rather an old civilian who had served his country. He didn’t leave behind many objects – physical possessions or war memorabilia. His entire collection of things from his service included:
His dog tags
Alaska Department patch (polar bear with star)
Rank patch – technician 5th grade
Campaign medal for Asia Pacific
Two garrison caps
His discharge paper
The only other thing I have from his military service is his flag. When a veteran dies, the VA gives a US flag to the family. I remember the day father died, the doctor called me early in the morning with the bad news and later in the day someone from the VA mortuary called to ask where to send the body and the flag.
We displayed it at father’s memorial service (father was cremated so there was no casket) and afterwards my brother and I folded it. My wife bought me a display case for it and now the flag sits atop my memorabilia cabinet next to my desk. As I write this, his flag and memory sits over my right shoulder.
Perhaps that is as it should be. There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t remember one of his jokes, or one of his stories, or bits of wisdom.
I could go on for days listing all the things I remember. Here are a few of his often spoken quotes:
When told, “Good to see you.” He’d always reply, “It’s good to be seen.”
“I didn’t quite smoking, I became a non-smoker.”
“You are who you say you are. Be careful what you call yourself.”
“Can we say that in a positive way?”
“There’s the right way, the wrong way and the Army way.”
“If I had to live my life over, I would.”
Father also told, and retold, a number of his Army stories. One that came to my mind this last week was his story of “Dock Duty.” Here is my retelling of that story (I’ll do the short version – dad’s version could take 20 minutes or more depending on the level of embellishment):
A couple of times a month the supply would come into port and all enlisted men were called for dock duty to unload the ship. Father didn’t really like this heavy lifting detail and like any good enlisted man did his best to figure a way out. Normally the arrival of the ships wasn’t announced – mostly to give the men as little time as possible to think up an excuse to get out of it.
Being in the coast artillery and working the radar set, father often found out about supply ship arrivals well before anyone else (some times even before his CO knew). Well one, cold snowy day, father had learned the ship was coming in and came up with a plan.
He went down to the radar shack just before he thought the lieutenant would be around to collect all the enlisted men for dock duty. When the lieutenant came into the shack father was ready – he had his maintenance manual out, a set of tools and the log book.
The lieutenant came in and called out, “Fall out for dock duty.”
No doubt he put on his innocent face and replied, “That’s today sir? I’ve got a problem, the set needs it’s weekly maintenance and it should really be done today.”
“Dock duty is important too, Reynolds, now move it,” replied the lieutenant.
“Yes, sir,” says my father, “Could you just sign my log book saying you sent me to dock duty instead of working on the set?”
“You son-of-a-bitch, you’d do that too.”
“Just following procedure sir, you see I’ve already started and if I don’t do it, it should be noted in the log.”
The lieutenant didn’t press the point, didn’t sign the log and father dusted the vacuum tubes, made a few voltage checks and put on a pot of coffee.
Father claims he did this twice. Then one morning father was in the barracks when the lieutenant burst in and called out, “Dock duty, everyone fall out. and you Reynolds, I suppose the set needs maintenance work today?”
“Yes sir, I was just about to get started,” replied father.
“Well, get going, Reynolds,” growled the lieutenant.
Father hadn’t been on the radar set the night before so didn’t know that a ship was coming in. He just figured the lieutenant was just tired of the game. Father said that he never did dock detail after that day.
But father did his share of KP – I suspect because it was the best way to steal extra food from the officer’s mess, but that is a story for another day.
Till next week,