Veteran’s Day and Military Brats

Yes, I’m one of those military brats. Lots of memories I could share but mostly today is a day to remember the veterans. My father, a young World War II vet rarely spoke of his years overseas. I believe it to be a wild time for a young aircrewman, as well as a life-threatening time for a well-trained partner to the pilot in two-seater. He and his pilot, an intricate team, working closely both physically and mentally to carry out missions, to come out alive.

Sounds of Silence Or What I Missed in the Quiet

Yikes! Dad was a gunner in that war. I don’t remember when I first learned of this but I know it confused me. How could this sweet, funny, social, loving father have fought in the war, any war? My father rarely spoke of his years overseas so it took me a long time to understand.

You see, being a military brat for me was just:

  • moving ( a lot)
  • learning how to make friends and build community
  • knowing that Dad traveled often and around the globe
  • thinking of my father as a teacher; he taught air radio technology and navigation to young recruits and “weekend warriors”
  • realizing weekends with my Dad were rare and special

These were all things that happened AFTER his war years. For a long time, I didn’t even realize that my Dad was an unsung American war hero. Communication was not his strong suit and somehow, being a Navy brat meant going to strange Christmas parties on base, emphasis on NOT living on base, and wondering if Dad was on board the plane that flew so low and made the house shake.  I had little toys I packed in his suitcase so he would find my treasures when away. Wars were not part of my childhood understanding.

Lose Lips Sink Ships

You see I was a peace loving child of the 60’s, distraught to grow beyond the naivety of childhood and being to understand the atrocities of war through the black and white body bags of tv and Vietnam. Is this when I began to question what my father did in the war? Honestly, I have no recollection when I saw glimmers of what my father had sacrificed. Perhaps it was just the knowledge that her rarely spoke of his years overseas that said so very, very much.

I remember the carrier reunions of my youth, wild with conversation between the vets and more than a few drinks consumed, we kids ran wild, missing an opportunity to learn from the war discussions. I never learned anything at these parties, excepting perhaps that these veterans had much joy and sorrow shared, relationships like no other.

Over the years, my father began to share snippets about his active duty stints on the Essex, the Ranger, and the Randolph. Choosing never to climb the ranks, this veteran was in the cockpit, proud to be one of the best aircrew “white hats”. Different ships meant different pilots, training and building the comaraderie that would last a life time, the brotherhood of naval aviators.

My father felt life aboard the wartime carriers was “pretty good”.  As an enlisted aircrew, he didn’t have to stand watch, was paid $60-$90 extra a month for hazardous duty (in 1942), and was primarily off-duty when not on a mission. This all assuming you survived the rigors of war.

Heroes Among Us

My father was one of the lucky ones and fifty years after the war, he was recognized, along with 400 other vets and their wives, as the Yorktown dedicated an Enlisted Combat Aircrew Roll of Honor. This is not just enlisted crew from one war, but from several. If you are an American history buff, a visit to Patriot Point is well advised.

My siblings and I were included in this week of celebration, along with our parents, wartime friends of my father, and the one pilot of his that was still living. My father walked with a cane and oxygen down that aisle to see his engraved name along with others on the honor roll, tears streaming down his cheeks. Many of his buddies never lived for such an honor.

I know where my bravery and courage comes from and this pivotal moment with my father,  I understood. I truly understood. Yes, I’m still a peace-nic and believe in avoiding war at all costs. But in those silent tears, I felt the patriotism, the sorrow, the pain, the loss that was rarely mentioned.

My father protected our country, our rights, our freedoms. In humbly doing what he felt was right, my father quietly protected his family from the atrocities of war. My father believed we didn’t need to know the horror he lived with. At the ceremony, a fellow crewman,  Retired Captain Schultz stated the often heard phrase “Freedom is not free”.  I finally understood.

A plethora of medals, including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, were no longer hidden in his bureau. His flight logs and training maneuvers are kept at my brother’s, who has embraced my father’s military history. My brother recently revisited the Yorktown, a smaller display over the years, but a reminder of what our veterans sacrifice. Much of our father’s history went with him when he passed but we thank him for always protecting US.

Thank you all and may peace be with us all.

#VeteransDay #ThankYouVeterans #melanomatheskin #Freedomisnotfree

We can-cer vive,

Janis

PS The librarian in me just wants to mention a book that includes my father in it and is a strong depiction of airstrikes in the Pacific during World War II, Crommelin’s Thunderbirds by Lt. Cdr. Roy W. Bruce and Lt. Cdr. Charles R. Leonard