Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ken Burns' The War is coming

A couple of posts ago I published a B&W picture of my Uncle Harry in Colorado as he looked during WWII. My life has been a search for heroes, and he is a hero.

Star on his high school football team, shipboard Marine during WWII in charge of AA fire onboard his light cruiser protecting the flattops, bronze star recipient, Princeton grad, farmer and geologist, father of three lovely daughters and a son, devoted husband, I was very grateful to be afforded the chance to see him again earlier this month in Durango, Colorado. He fought at the first and second Battle of the Philippine Sea (the first one being the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, the second one being the Battle of Leyte Gulf, where the Japanese very nearly pulled off a stunning surprise), the China Sea raids, the Iwo Jima landing, and the First Carrier Air Strikes at Tokyo.

His ship was off Peleliu when my father, who was also a WWII Marine, was fighting in that bloody island battle. Many shipboard Marines were sent ashore as replacements for the heavy casualties incurred onshore, and I have read my uncle's journal entry where he expresses relief upon learning from lightly wounded Marines transferred to his ship from the raging battle that they knew my father and he was unhurt so far.

Jim is alive! is the notation my uncle made about his brother. Those were the days when boys barely out of their teens had such concerns, eh? (My father was nineteen when he served his time in the hell called Peleliu.)

Here is a picture of my father during WWII. You could see these pictures in the Navy Log at the Navy Memorial in DC on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the Archives at Seventh Street. He also fought on Okinawa, and was posted to China immediately after the war to confront the Communists in an attempt to bolster our fatally corrupt ally Chiang Kai-shek.

Ken Burns has produced a film on World War II which singles out the Battle of Peleliu as prime examples of a sanguinary battle that was strategically worthless, the brutality of the war, and how little Americans actually know about World War II. (Peleliu bled the First Marine Division white. It also was the Marines' introduction to the new Japanese strategy of eschewing wasteful banzai charges and making the Americans root them out from their fortified entrenchments one by one, which proved hideously costly at Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.)

If you want to know the ordeal that young Americans went through at Peleliu, read The Devil's Anvil by James Hallas. Your next twenty-miler won't seem so bad.

And yes, I thought my father, who died in 1986 at age 61, was a hero too. Did a family member of yours serve during WWII? Look his or her service record up.


nylisa said...

I've always been fascinated with those who served in the military. My brother is a Marine and my brother-in-law is a Marine who served in Iraq. It's always interesting to see the different connections made through war. My family didn't come to the US until the 70s, so we don't have much of a history here, but my grandfather was an army general who served under Shek and was captured and killed by the Communists. You're right. I think my 20 miler will pale in comparison.

jeanne said...

it's so cool that you know all the history of your dad and your uncle. i went to a preview of "the war" at the lincoln theater (shaw) last week, and burns talked (why does he come across as such a milquetoast? Is it the hair?) and he had 3 veterans on stage with him, who were much more interesting.

So what did you think of episode 1?

btw, i've been trying to discover my father's war records...he is not deceased, and i am not next of kin, and he's not talking to me, so i think i'm pretty much SOL.
there's another link ($$) i'll send you with some good stuff on it.

Sempre Libera said...

Thanks for sharing those stories. It's wonderful to have heroes to look up to in your own family.

As for their experiences, I think it goes to show how horrific war is by definition, no matter how good (or not) the intentions, no matter how brave the men and women who put their lives on the line. I think we forget that all too easily...

Bex said...

This post reminds me of our conversations about WWII during our weekend long runs. I'm definitely going to check out the new Ken Burns doc. How's it going? Back from Denver?

Just12Finish said...

We owe your Dad's generation a huge debt.

Running Jayhawk said...

Hey Peter! Rich (Just12Finish) had mentioned you're running Chicago on Sunday and suggested I invite you to the RBF meet up after the race. When you get a chance, fire an e-mail my direction and I can get you added to the evite. It's be great if you could make it! My e-mail is :)

Dori said...

We owe a big debt of gratitude to our WWII veterans. I cried when I watched the part about the Bataan Death March. There's a race every year that commemorates that. Now I get why.

Rainmaker said...

Hey Peter, shoot me an e-mail... I went to send you something related.

(Here's to hoping you've got comment e-mail turned on)