My father was too young for the war, he watched the older boys in the neighborhood go off, but he could not, so he lived. He felt he missed out. He did. But, on the Monday of Thanksgiving week in 1948, he stormed in from the fields, took a shower in the middle of the day, dressed in “town” clothes and stormed off. He was too angry for anyone to talk to. No one know where he was going, but the reason why was easy to guess. He and his grandfather conflicted over how to farm.
His grandfather had been born in Germany and came over, alone, as a boy of seventeen. He became eighteen on the ship. The family were farmers and weavers back home, he continued both here. Granpa said his father always had a loom in the house and he posed for one photo with a blanket behind him. I’m sure he made it.
Great Granpa farmed with mules. He insisted that was the only way to farm. My father wanted to be a modern farmer and use a tractor. They faught.
When my father returned home that night, he announced he had just enlisted in the U.S.Navy and would be leaving for duty in one week. It was not a happy Thanksgiving for my grandmother.
My father ended up being assigned to duty in the South Pacific. He quickly grew homesick. The ocean was interesting to look at for a few minutes, but where was the grass and the trees and the cows? He asked for pictures from home and would look and look at them. In one letter he wrote he would almost rather look at pictures of cows than eat! His younger sister thought he was silly.
In the South Pacific he was a clerk on a salvage ship. They were assigned to Bikini Atoll. They were there for the second and third atomic bomb tests. They watched the bombs explode. For protection, the men were issued smoked goggles. I have his. After the explosions, his ship sailed into the contaminated water, divers went down, and pulled up bits of wreckage from the ships in the target zone. For entertainment, the men took geiger counters, held them to the wreckage to listen to the amount of radioactivity in the pieces. They were so ignorant! Everyone was.
My father wrote home about “radio activity.” He knew what the separate words meant, but together as one word, it was meaningless. The clicking of the geiger counters indicated the wreckage was “hot,” but they didn’t feel hot to the touch. They did not understand. In one letter, my dad said the family would likely know more from the newspapers than what the enlisted men were told.
The father of a college friend of mine was assigned patrol duty in Nagasaki right after the bomb blast there. In his later years he died an agonizing death as radiation cancers ate his body up. My father was killed at 42. Decades later, when I learned of the death of my friend’s father, I became glad that my father was spared that kind of death.
The sacrifices made by those who serve their country are not just limited to their lives but continue for generations. None of my children could know their grandfather. I was just 16 when he was killed. I am 70 now – and still miss him.