Saturday, June 6, 2009
A Memorial Gets Me Thinking
The 65th Anniversary at the Normandy American Cemetery in France put me in mind of my dad talking about what hearing about Normandy meant to the American troops serving in the Pacific Theater. He described hearing about the successful landing (despite the enormous loss of life) after he had arrived back in New Guinea. He said that nothing quite uplifted the discouraged troops, who wondered if they'd be fighting the Japanese for years and years...more than knowing that we were succeeding in the drive against Nazi Germany. The landing inspired the troops in the Pacific to believe that someday, someday, it would all be over and they could go back to their normal lives again.
My dad served with the army in New Guinea... largely the war there has been described as a "knock down drag out battle between two tired heavyweights". The Japanese and the American/Australian forces cohabitated on New Guinea for over three years of the war effort..struggling to knock each other off the island.
My dad didn't share a lot of details -- how I wish I had probed for more of his story today. I have recently sent away for his Army record, so that I can leave that for my own children, to honor his service. Their other grandfather was in the European theater, and landed at Anzio.
Dad's unit operated jointly with the Australians under Douglas MacArthur. He was felled by severe malaria (along with 27,000 other Allied troops) in New Guinea, and spent some of his service time recovering at a hospital in Australia. When he went back, he narrowly survived an attack at night by an island tribe which was operating in conjunction with the Japanese. His military blanket bore the marks of a spear that narrowly missed him while he was sleeping one night in camp.
I know that the hardships in the jungle were difficult for a kid from Minnesota. Dad was 22 when he enlisted in 1941. Two other brothers were in the Navy, and one in the Army. All were deployed in the Pacific theater. Luckily, all came home. The memorial above that was featured in this weeks news is a testament to some that did not. Mostly, bodies in the Pacific theater were not recovered, or were shipped to Australia or back to the states for internment. My dad's family was lucky. All 4 boys came back home.
Here's what service in New Guinea - where rain and monsoons were a daily way of life, looked like for American soldiers: