When I was a community news reporter, I wrote several stories about veterans, most of whom served in World War II. Some were grand marshals of parades, others were new recipients of medals or honors, and a few were featured in film documentaries and books. In telling their stories, I discovered something that united many of them.
I learned that they rarely, if ever, spoke about their war experiences in the years immediately after the war and even many decades later. Some had only begun to talk in their advanced years, often after taking part in counseling services provided at VA and other hospitals. For many vets, these experiences were too painful to discuss, at least publicly. Some considered it a sign of weakness to talk about their emotions surrounding the war, or didn’t know how to express them. Their reasons varied.
My father, Jack, is a WWII veteran. He turned 93 years old in May, and I’m the youngest of his six children. From what I can recall while growing up, he made some mention of his service in the military after he graduated from New Rochelle High School in 1944. The accompanying photo of him in uniform may have sparked me to ask him some questions. But all that I really remembered is that he was very young and he didn’t see combat. I assumed that during the war he remained in the United States.
It was only until about three years ago that he started to tell me more details about his military service, and I was surprised to learn that he was deployed to a small island in the Pacific. At the time, he was preparing to fly with a group of veterans from the New York Metropolitan area to Washington D.C. to visit World War II and other war memorials through the Honor Flight Network. The all-volunteer private program helps transport vets to our nation’s capital who may otherwise be unable to visit on their own.
Exactly 75 years ago today, on June 15, 1944, Allied forces invaded Japanese-held Saipan, an island among the Northern Mariana Islands archipelago in the Western Pacific. While the Battle of Saipan officially ended in an Allied victory a few weeks later, on July 9, some Japanese forces remained hidden in the island’s jungles and mountains and engaged in guerrilla-type tactics against their Allied occupants. These forces persisted until December 1945, four months after the atomic bombs were dropped that forced Japan’s surrender.
What I’ve learned is that my father enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943 and was called to service after his high school graduation. He received basic training, was enlisted to the Aviation Cadet Training Program and was deployed to Saipan for six months, where he worked as a support individual right after Japan’s surrender. His outfit, the 127th Army Airways Communications Squadron, was involved in tracking the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He was later deployed to Guam, the southernmost of the Mariana Islands, for seven more months. While there, he also visited Tinian, the island from which Enola Gay and Bockscar, the bomber that dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki, were based. He was discharged in September 1946.
My father also told me more about his time spent in basic training, which included living in an unheated barracks in frigid Wisconsin, where he got to bath just once a week at a nearby house.
After he told me all of this, I had a newfound respect for his military career that I wished I had known earlier. In short, to think that he was just a teenager when he was sent to a tiny, remote island in the Pacific—in the aftermath of the bloodiest and most destructive war in history—is still difficult for me to fathom. I can’t imagine how I would have endured living through the same experiences at his age.
I also considered that perhaps I wouldn’t be here today if the bombs weren’t dropped, the war ragged on, and my father was sent into battle and was killed. But he told me later that he probably wouldn’t have seen combat because he lacked the necessary intensive training.
Given all of the stories about WWII veterns that I’ve written, I thought I should finally tell my father’s tale. He deserves recognition. And what better time to do that than on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Saipan and on the eve of Father’s Day.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!