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A Patriotic American

Like many young—very young—men in the early 1940’s he tried to enlist in the Navy.  He was only 17 and suffered severe myopia; thus was deferred at that particular time.  However, soon after his 18th birthday, the inevitable letter arrived starting with the hackneyed phrase “Greetings” (the request to report to his draft board)

Miraculously, the eyesight was no longer a problem but he was fortunate enough to be the last one in the lineup that day to pick his service.  And so he was inducted into the United States Navy and sent to Boot Camp at the Great Lakes.  Boot Camp was that unpleasant place where the military whipped everyone into physical fighting shape and obedience training.  Unlike dogs, however, the participants did not receive treats for good behavior.   He was granted a short leave between boot camp and radio school.

His description of radio school was hilarious – he said “if you dropped your pencil and had to bend down to pick it up, you would have missed two weeks ‘worth of lectures.”  This was called accelerated studies and usually about half the class didn’t make it.  Flunk one test and you were shipped somewhere else.  He often said he had an advantage because he had taken typing in high school; that fact allowed him to spend more time in learning to send and receive Morse code.

After another brief hiatus at home he was off to find his ship the USS Oklahoma City, a light cruiser; first a shake-down cruise and then down the east coast, through the Panama Canal and on to the war in the Pacific.    Many battles, Kamikazes attacking, typhoons, danger from all sides—most of which he never talked about.  It was a war in which the combatants were not rotated back home or back anywhere for R & R (except for pilots).  He didn’t know when or if he would ever see home again.

There were strange little aberrations on the ship due of course to the inability to be resupplied.  Each sailor was allotted 4 pieces of toilet tissue a day; for some reason those who had duty during the night hours were not allowed to hang their bunk down during the day; they just had to find a hiding place to go to sleep.  Seems impossible in view of the accommodations on board ship these days.

The USS Oklahoma City was the first ship into Tokyo Bay after the surrender and its crew acted as a police force armed with billy clubs, until the soldiers could arrive.  He along with shipmates visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki within 40 days of the destruction with the atom bombs.  No one knew the effects of radiation at that time.  According to his service record, he was stationed in both cities at least for a short time.

He returned to the United States aboard a ship loaded with returning servicemen—so many that the crew received three meals a day, but passengers only two, and every day they were served beef stew.  It seems redundant to say that he never (capitalized and underlined) touched beef stew again in his life time.  Along with everyone else they cheered loudly and some wept openly as they passed under the Golden Gate Bridge.

As far as he was concerned, he had performed his patriotic duty, was proud to have served his country and his country owed him nothing.

Like most of his generation, he settled down, married, raised a family, and after a number of unhappy years sought a divorce.

He married his best friend and she had different thoughts on the matter of his cancer.  After he passed away in 2007 she did some research on his exposure to radiation all those many years ago.  The VA benefits had included a radiation register in one of their brochures.  Everyone had heard of Agent Orange and some of the chemicals from the Gulf War, but his wife could find no one who knew about the radiation.   With a somewhat guilty conscience because of his strong stand on “he had just performed his duty” she applied for benefits. 

He had many medical problems but died of lung cancer that seemed to appear from nowhere.  The VA determined that radiation had definitely contributed to his cancer and therefore he is considered to be a casualty of World War II.  He is a hero, a patriot, and he died for his country.

I am proud and happy to have been his wife for over 30 years and to know the legacy he has left for his children and grandchildren.

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