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Thread: One man's plain, rich story
10-06-07, 07:24 AM #1
One man's plain, rich story
Oct. 05, 2007
One man's plain, rich story
Pahrump Valley Times, NV
What I always said was that my dad never told me anything about being on the front lines in Okinawa as a light infantry rifleman, a 19-year-old Marine private, in World War II.
But it turns out that if you piece it all together, combining the grunted responses with the few stories he'd willingly tell and that brief item he managed to get out before breaking down, you come up with something reasonably detailed.
And it fits snugly into Ken Burns' epic, gripping and powerful serial documentary on the war just completed on PBS.
My dad's story was of a dirt-poor tenant farmer's kid from the backwoods of Southwest Arkansas who, when drafted upon turning 18 in August 1943, informed the folks in Little Rock, with the naive bellicosity of a country kid, that he'd like the toughest thing they had.
So that's what they gave him from April into June of 1945.
What he'd shared in bits and pieces over the years got traced precisely by Burns: The crazy Japanese kamikazes coming straight at them, the surprising ease with which the Marines landed on Okinawa, the Marines getting called in to replace the Army somewhere around Sugar Loaf Hill, the torrential rains through April that left his foxhole a cesspool, and, then, that thing that made him cry and bolt the room -- something bad happening to "Sarge."
On his deathbed, out of his head as cigarettes took him 45 years after Okinawa spared him, he insisted he'd "done everything I could for Sarge."
In the 80s I was catching serious flak from the right wing for writing that we ought to permit idiots to burn the flag. A fellow called and said that I needed to have fought in war to understand. That flag was what kept you going, he said.
So I asked my dad about that one day. He just shook his head. For one thing, he said, any flag was way behind him. For another, any idiot carrying a flag where he was would have had his head shot off.
That's what you always got from him -- plain, minimalist practicalities that managed to leave the impression that the ones who talked didn't have a clue.
There are his letters to his sister. But there's a gap between the trip from San Diego to Guam -- during which he wrote that he'd seen "all the water I ever care to see" -- and the postwar occupation of Peking. He seemed to have drunk too much there, engaged in an alarming number of fist fights and taken a shine to a Chinese girl. He always told me he couldn't figure where all those Chinese people went at night.
It might not last, but, on the day after Burns' series, I found myself newly circumspect in commentary about the war in Iraq. My fingers itched to attack those cowboy mercenaries of Blackwater USA. But I stopped short. From the comfort of a distant keyboard, one knows nothing about what people do in war.
I called my mom moments after the Okinawa episode. But I could hardly talk. I kept saying, "It's sad, just sad."
What I wanted to get out, but couldn't, was a lament that my dad was among real American heroes, apparently, yet he spent a hard life working two and three jobs barely to keep his wife and two kids fed. He ran a rural garbage route, painted houses and, until he fell off a ladder in the warehouse and destroyed his ankle, loaded Nabisco cookies on trucks.
What I didn't understand was why we weren't on a pedestal and the richest damned people on our street.
But maybe we were.
John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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