Saturday, August 6, 2016

A GRANDFATHER'S SECRET LIFE

When our son was small, we lived in an apartment complex in Los Angles with a pool. Everyone who had kids and grandkids got to know each other as we sunned ourselves, swam and kept a close eye on the little tadpoles. Often, we got to chatting. That was how my husband and I heard a very remarkable wartime story of the kind of great and unnoticed heroism that characterized the men who fought WWII.

We were chatting with a grandfather proudly keeping an eye on his two grandchildren. He was an older man who we'd spoken to briefly many times before, but, on that day, my husband, who was raised on WWII stories, happened to ask if this gentleman had been involved in the war. Oh, yes, he replied. Really, where were you stationed?

Well, he was on a PT boat. He described how very small and fragile those early PT boats were, but how fast and maneuverable that made them. It was a small crew that served with him on his boat. And, completely surprising my husband, who'd read so much about WWII, this unprepossessing grandfather, sunning himself in Sherman Oaks, had been part of the D Day invasion force. Very few people know, he told us, that PT boats braved the channel the night before the invasion to reconnoiter the coast, but he was there and witnessed the dawn of June 6 when the huge attack force came across to the beaches at Normandy.

Yes, he said, it was very funny when he joined up and got assigned to the small PT boat. I believe it was a crew of only six, and, he added, I was the only Jew. In fact, most of the guys were Southerners and had never met a Jew before. But we got along great, he added.

Looking at those lovely grandkids of his, I expressed how glad we were that he'd lived through D Day to come home.

But, turned out that was hardly the end of his story. After the D day invasion, he'd been assigned to the war in the Pacific, where the Marines and Navy were retaking all the Japanese occupied islands one at a time. He got a far away look in his eyes, before he went on. We thought we were goners, he said. The casualties for retaking each island were huge. He didn't expect to live many more months. None of them did. Then, he said, it was the most amazing thing. This rumor went around about a miracle bomb that was going to end the war. No one could believe it at first. We were so used to thinking we had to take each island at the cost of thousands of lives, that it just seemed like another one of those crazy hopeful rumors that couldn't be believed. But it was true. And that was the A-Bomb. I wouldn't be here today if not for that.

Well, he was just one man of many brave and very young men in the Pacific, fighting a war that looked endless. And he was on a mission that had extremely high casualties, so he knew it would take a miracle for him to ever see home again. But, he got his miracle. For him and all those men, the A Bomb saved their lives. And he looked to have lived a very good life after that. His grandkids had a lot to be proud of in their old granddad, and I'll bet when they asked, "What did you do in the war, granddad, they got a story that they would never forget. I never have.

August 6 is VJ day. I thought it was a good thing to remember one man's story.

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