This is my Dad, in a photo shot during his first hitch in the Corps, app. 1932. He does resemble a certain fictional Gunny, doesn’t he?
Today, I remember my father, and I understand him more than he ever wanted me to in some areas. I really want to write his life story, but will probably have to do it as fiction as few would believe it otherwise.
During his first hitch, he was the sole survivor of his squad. They were on the then mandatory cruise after boot camp, and were up in formation on the deck of the Wyoming to witness a 5-inch gunnery demonstration when one of the guns blew. Dad came to with medics checking him, saying that this one was dead too because of the brains in his hair.
I only learned of the full details because years later he met a friend of mine named Jabe. I saw Dad giving him some serious looks at the time, but thought it might be for other reasons. Later, he took me aside and told me how Jabe reminded him of one of his best friends, a big guy who happened to be standing in front of Dad that fateful day on the Wyoming. He was enough bigger that he shielded Dad from the worst.
When WWII started, Dad had a draft-exempt job at Hercules Powder. The supervisor kept getting him temporary exemptions, and Dad told him to make it a permanent one or he was gone. The supervisor did a temporary, and Dad went back into the Corps. He taught marksmanship (San Diego, where his next-door-neighbor was Joan Crawford), until he and others heard their names called as volunteering to reinforce Marines on an island that fell soon after.
In Hawai’i during transit, he saw a notice for a bodyguard/orderly position, and put in for it immediately. The officer who interviewed him was quite taken with Dad’s expert ratings with various weapons (he had shot competitions for the Corps during his first hitch), and then asked him when he had been an orderly. Dad replied that he had been orderly to the Captain of the Wyoming in 193X. Dad had indeed been assigned that duty, for a week, as his light duty after the gun accident. The officer didn’t ask Dad how long, but instead asked him “Are you a goddamm retread?” My Dad, at the time a good Southern Baptist, responded “Yes Sir! I am a goddamm retread Sir!” The officer laughed, and said that he was exactly what they were looking for. He then asked Dad if he would like to meet the officer for whom he would be orderly and bodyguard. Dad said yes, and the man went and knocked on a door, opened it, and said “Admiral Spruance, would you like to meet your new orderly?”
Dad had a couple of regular stories about WWII, funny ones. About sleeping on top of the Hiroshima bomb without knowing what it was. It took decades, but as I got older he let a few things slip. I know he went ashore more than once, and I suspect he helped bury his fellow Marines. I suspect strongly that he saw some combat, though he never talked about it as such. Just some comments that in retrospect revealed some first-hand knowledge. I suspect he saw first hand when Japanese families and civilians jumped (or were driven) over a cliff when the Marines were taking one of the last islands. He talked about the efforts he and his brother John (B-29 pilot) to write home daily after the news of the Indianapolis sinking came out. Each letter talked about ‘had dinner with Cliff/John (depending on who was writing), ‘had lunch with Cliff/John,’ and such as that to let the family know he was alive, as last they knew Dad was on the Indianapolis with the Admiral. The efforts they undertook to avoid the censors but get the word that Dad was alive (since they could not say it directly) were delightful.
You always tell the funny ones. Mine is of the Brad being attacked by the Iraqi grandmother with a broom, furious that the babies had been awakened. Dad’s mostly revolved around sleeping on the bomb, and the Admiral laughing at the look on Dad’s face when he found out what he had been sleeping on. You always tell the funny ones.
This Fathers Day, I remember my Dad. I now understand his vehemence when he told the 10-year-old me that he hoped I would NEVER qualify to join the American Legion. I understand a lot of what he didn’t say, what he shared that I didn’t understand, and why he never talked about some of it. I really do need to write his story one day, but the above is just the tip of the iceberg.
I miss you Dad. And I understand, more than you ever wanted me to.