December 7, 2012

Tora! Tora! Tora!


I mentioned Pearl Harbor Day to some coworkers today. Most had no real idea what I was talking about. Hipsters. They know pearl necklaces, they don't know Pearl Harbor. Well it was a perfidious thing, I said, and they dutifully Googled "perfidious."

This got me to thinking again about what the Senator had done in the Big One. I don't know, precisely. No one will. That generation wore their PTSD on their livers instead of their sleeves. Not saying that's better, it just is what it was. I know this:

He shaved four months off his age and enlisted two months before graduating high school. After basic he ended up in an intelligence company based in Gander, Newfoundland. But first he went to jump school at Ft. Benning. Because he was going to be jumping into Greenland.

I found 82nd Airborne patches in his military stash after he died. My best guess is he was embedded with an 82nd class at Benning. Pretended to be 82nd for his ultimate billet. Because as far as I know Benning was (is?) the only jump school. But what records I have do not indicate he was ever an All-American.

What he did was jump into Greenland at intervals and knock out German weather stations. Radio shacks. Greenland was by international convention neutral territory during WWII. But the Nazis needed weather stations as far west as possible for the U-boat wolfpacks, and they weren't going to be building them in Anne of Green Gables' backyard. Hence Greenland. It was remote, isolated, a few hours west of Norway. They weren't supposed to be there, and neither were we. But he told us he hunted them down.

He never mentioned killing anyone. Only that the first German he saw was when he crested a snow drift and came face to face with a Kraut about his age. 18. They sized each other up, and both slowly backed away. The mutual unspoken agreement was we never saw each other, and we're both pissing ourselves in fear. This extremely rational meeting of the minds was interrupted when the Senator's sergeant crested the snow drift, and blasted the kid.

From there I only heard vague tales of grenading radio shacks and shooting polar bears. The bears were shot to feed the dogsled teams. The dogs had real meat. Because they were more valuable than the GIs. The soldiers had canned reserve rations stamped 1917. They fed the bear to the dogs, they ate the dog food, and they tossed the reserve rations. Circle of life.

After a year of this glorious living the Senator was sent to Officer Candidate School. Back to Benning. I'm not sure how a 19-year-old high school drop-out with a year of service earned a slot at OCS. Some college grad boy, or some long-time veteran, perhaps, got screwed. In the middle of an existential death struggle. I can only surmise a drop-out gets bumped to the head of the class for doing very special things. And in Greenland that could only mean killin'. And I don't mean polar bears.

To pu this in perspective, my father's older brother, with two exemplary years in the Army Air Corps, had only risen to the rank of PFC. And by all accounts Uncle Bob was a hoss.

At any rate, Pearl Harbor Day is the day Americans shot their cuffs, hiked their britches, snapped their suspenders, and decided to rule the world. The day before we were isolationist goobers. Half-starved sweet potato gnawers, vendors of wormholed apples. The day after we were a mighty juggernaut in the making. Builders of battleships and tanks and aeroplanes, slaughterers of livestock, creators of steel and aluminium. We planted Victory gardens in our backyards, and bayonets in the bad guys' bellies. We were never the same people again.

To close, the Senator never saw a Japanese person until he was a JAG officer in Tokyo during the Korean War. At that point, five years after the war, they were still a starving, scavenging, pathetic race of people. Much as we were in 1940. His letters home indicate no malice toward the Japanese at that point. A certain sadness, mos def.

When you've seen enough, I suppose you've seen enough.

Posted by Velociman at December 7, 2012 6:40 PM

Extra points for working the pearl necklace reference in.

Posted by: vanderleun at December 7, 2012 10:13 PM

I loved this piece. It brought pictures of so many family members, long gone, to life. Thanks.

Posted by: Lorene Moore at December 7, 2012 11:05 PM

I loved this piece. It brought pictures of so many family members, long gone, to life. Thanks.

Posted by: Lorene Moore at December 7, 2012 11:05 PM

My favorite Uncle, the insane one, not the crazy one was in the 3d Marine Division in WWII, He was in the first wave of Marines to invade Iwo Jima. Uncle Buddy took me fishing and hunting quite a lot, he was a Police Patrolman in Seattle for many years. I asked him after he retired from the Police Force why he took me with him all those times instead of his own kids. It was because for reasons known only to God, I didn't ask him questions about his war experiences. We'd sit in his boat or behind some kind of cover waiting fot a suicical deer for endless hours, drinking pop and beer, eating sandwiches and just be together without a lot of "heart to heart" blabbering. The only reference he ever made to being in the Corps was that he sure wished he didn't have to use that POS M1, and that he threw the M1 away after about two weeks when he found a M-03A3 that had belonged to some dead Marine.

He didn't seem to harbor any ill feelings towards the Japanese or Americans of Japanese descent either. I think he just wanted to forget the whole damned thing and get on with his life. He was a bit disappointed when I couldn't get into the Corps because of my screwed up left wrist though.

Gerry N.

Posted by: Gerry N. at December 7, 2012 11:19 PM

Kudos, V-Man.

Posted by: Jim - PRS at December 8, 2012 2:19 AM

Nicely done, V-man! Love your way with words, as always. "That generation wore their PTSD on their livers instead of their sleeves." Perfect. My dad never talked about his stint in WWII -- he was just a lowly radio tech -- for the OSS. North Africa & Italy. Would never cop to much action, but never would open up about his war. Typical of that generation, right? I always wondered if there wasn't more to it.

Posted by: Marianne at December 8, 2012 2:30 AM

We will soon be again "Half-starved sweet potato gnawers, vendors of wormholed apples. No longer the mighty juggernaut"

Circle of Life.

Posted by: JohnB at December 8, 2012 2:34 PM

We were honored to know such men, to have been sired by such.

They still live in our blood, in our hearts. But now, have we enough of them left in our character to win again, this very different war of ideas which bisects our nation?

For it is a war, and the consequences of losing are indeed, frightful.

And yes, amigo.... damn good bit of writing you've given us here. I intend to read it more than a few times.

Sunk New Dawn
Galveston, TX

Posted by: Jim at December 8, 2012 9:25 PM

It is said that democracies do not end with a bang but a whimper. Of course, there is that whole transitory sacking thing.

Posted by: james wilson at December 9, 2012 1:09 AM

Well said VMan! Those Jap bastards forever changed our world and we are still living with the reprecussions till this day. My dad was a medic in Europe and I lost an uncle when the Japs sunk his destroyer off Guadacanal. And now our federal guvmint resembles more Mussolini's Fascists then the one our Founding Fathers fasioned for us.

Posted by: IrishEd at December 9, 2012 8:31 AM

Shut up.

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I read all your articles! Thanks for all the interesting information.

Posted by: bestdissertations at December 11, 2012 4:54 AM

One of the best posts I've seen from you in a long time... and (mostly) a Senator story, to boot. Go with what you know always works.

The money quote: "We planted Victory gardens in our backyards, and bayonets in the bad guys' bellies. We were never the same people again."

Also, what vanderleun said. (Go with what you know.)

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