Tag Archives: Pearl Harbor

“MONUMENTS WITHOUT INSCRIPTIONS”: OUR WWII VETERANS

veteran

Today’s anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has me thinking about our WWII veterans.  Ninety-six percent of those who served our country during World War Two are now gone.  Many who are still with us are past sharing about their experiences, and many never wished to.

In writing this I am reminded of one my favorite books by one of my favorite authors: Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry, the prolific Kentucky novelist, poet, and essayist.  Like many of Berry’s novels, Hannah Coulter is set in the tiny fictional hamlet of Port William, Kentucky.  Narrated through the reminiscences of an aged farm wife, the novel spans the period from the Great Depression through the close of the twentieth century, but the emotional heart of the novel grapples with the personal effects of the Second World War.

HannahCoulter

Toward the end of her recollections, Hannah relates that she “married the war twice, you might say, once in ignorance, once in knowledge.” She married her first true love, Virgil Feltner, just weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Virgil entered the army in 1942 but didn’t come home, falling at the Battle of the Bulge. In 1948 she married another local GI, Nathan Coulter.  Nathan came home physically unscathed, but forever marked by what he had experienced.

Hannah’s reflections about her second husband remind me of my own father’s unwillingness—or inability—to share about his wartime experiences. As I have noted before, my dad served in the navy during WWII and saw extensive action in the South Pacific. On the third anniversary of Pearl Harbor, his destroyer, the U.S.S. Mahan, was hit by three Japanese Kamikaze suicide bombers off the coast of the Philippines and sunk. Dad has always been willing to share this much, but no more. What he felt when he heard the crash of the Kamikazes, what he thought when the forward magazine on the Mahan exploded, what he saw as he headed toward the side, what went through his mind when he jumped into the oil-coated bay, what, perhaps, he prayed as he bobbed in the water while the battle continued to rage—these are things that Dad never once offered to share.

And so I was deeply moved to read Hannah’s reflections on Nathan’s half-century-long silence:

He did not talk about it, I understood, because it was painful to remember; and for the same reason I did not ask him about it. . . . Nathan was not the only one who was in it, who survived it and came home from it and did not talk about it. There were several from Port William who went and fought and came home and lived to be old men here, whose memories contained in silence the farthest distances of the world, terrible sights, terrible sufferings. Some of them were heroes. And they said not a word. They stood among us like monuments without inscriptions. They said nothing or said little because we have barely a language for what they knew, and they could not bear the pain of talking of their knowledge in even so poor a language as we have.

Are there “monuments without inscriptions” in your life today?  Reach out to them while you can.

“A DATE WHICH WILL LIVE IN INFAMY”

pearl-harbor

It’s been seventy-five years since the Japanese surprise attack on the U. S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  The generation of Americans whose lives were forever changed by that event is dwindling rapidly.  Nearly four hundred WWII vets die every day, and less than 4 percent of the sixteen million who served are still with us.

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From the National WWII Museum, New Orleans, LA

My dad is one of those survivors.  Seventy-five years ago today, Dad was a nineteen-year old taking his high school sweetheart to the movies.  Two months later he was in the Navy, and three years to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor he was rescued off the coast of the Philippines after his destroyer was hit by Japanese suicide bombers.

It’s impossible for most of us to relate to the sacrifices that our WWII veterans made on our behalf.  Why not pause for a moment to reflect on the events of December 7, 1941 and to remember those who gave their lives on that dark day?

Click here for a slide show of images of the attack  and of modern commemorations.  Click here for a fuller tribute to my father’s wartime service.

“A DATE WHICH WILL LIVE IN INFAMY . . .”

pearl-harbor

It’s been nearly three quarters of a century since the Japanese surprise attack on the U. S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  The generation of Americans whose lives were forever changed by that event is dwindling rapidly.  Why not pause for a moment to reflect on that event and to remember those who gave their lives on that dark day?  Click here for a slide show of images of the attack  and of modern commemorations.