6-14-12 The prompt: Pick a person who is important.
Pick a photo of that person.
Start with: “In this one, you are…”
In this one, you are… writing home to your mother and father. The cover on your head is cocked jauntily, against all regulations. There is no one around in the background, just sandy beach. You probably got one of your buddies to take the picture. Your smile says “Having a wonderful time, Mom. Don’t worry.”
You had been on Saipan Island for two months, two years into your enlistment. The action wasn’t bad yet. Iwo Jima was quite a few months down the road, and you had no idea. Most of the day was spent servicing the planes and going out on sub patrols in a borrowed Helldiver. Nights were quiet, with the occasional siren and mad dash to the anti-aircraft guns, or to a bunker for protection. I suppose for you it was the bunkers.
I’m following you now, retracing your footprints from Camp Lejeune and Parris Island to Quantico, then to San Diego, then off on the ships to the Islands. I just want to know what was going on. The stories turned out to be so sanitized or fictionalized that I lost track of you as a pre-Father doing whatever it was you did in the war. The photo of you is all that was left of your war record after the fire. I’m lucky it was on the desk in the living room, and that someone had the foresight to pick up the whole thing and dump it on the front lawn.
You gave me the gift of a few stories so that I could live the life of a World War II Marine vicariously through your eyes. You must not have known that I wanted nonfiction. The stories were thrilling enough. I just wanted to know the truth. I know now as an adult that telling the truth about war is never done lightly, never done with children, and only done safely with those who have shared the horrors. I just wish now that I had the courage to ask later in life, and that you had the courage to answer.
Through my explorations, all of the papers from the St. Louis records archive are in sleeves in a notebook. Your complete military record is there. I have books about the Pacific war on the shelves, and the Marine Corps is digging up unit histories for me. I have one of those cases for the folded flag. It has room under the flag for the medals and campaign ribbons. I’m slogging through the history, just as you slogged through making the history. Perhaps this is how I keep you alive in my heart and mind. Seeing you in your uniform, seeing you in the landing craft, seeing you with the rifle that used to live in the trunk in the basement of our old house after you were done with it. I know that was real. I held it. I have your picture in a frame on my desk, you standing on the beach, hat cocked jauntily on your head. I see you, and I remember.