A Veterans’ Day recollection

“At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war; they saved the world.”    — Tom Brokaw in “The Greatest Generation

H.A. Mitchell, decorated hero of the Pacific campaign in World War II

My father joined the Army when he was 16. He lied about his age.

He knew what was coming and was there when it came. He was in Pearl City that Sunday morning in 1941 when World War II began.

He spent the rest of the war hopping from island to island with his artillery unit. He said he chose artillery because he wanted to make a lot of noise.

I know he was in the Philippines about the time the survivors of the Death March of Bataan were rescued. The rest are a blur in my memory, though I recall him telling about how they censored letters home lest they fall into enemy hands and give away troop locations — you couldn’t write that the food was “good enough,” because the ship was at Goodenough Island.

He was a decorated hero, but said he refused to wear the Purple Heart so he wouldn’t have to explain exactly where the wound was located.

When he and his war buddies got to together they seldom talked about the fighting, only the antics, like climbing on the hood of a truck and stealing eggs out of the back of another truck as it slowly climbed a steep hill.

But one of his friends once let slip that Dad, a bulldozer operator, actually did that scene from a John Wayne movie in which the bulldozer operator raised the blade to deflect bullets while rescuing pinned down soldiers.

To hear him and his friends talk, it seemed like they spilled more beer than blood, but somehow still managed to win the war and save the world.

They are the ones Veterans’ Day is for. As for me and my war buddies, we couldn’t save the world from falling dominoes, though we did manage to stick a finger in McNamara’s Wall.

Thomas Mitchell, next to never used bunker outside his hooch on Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base just across the Mekong River from Laos

19 comments on “A Veterans’ Day recollection

  1. Padmini Pai says:

    God bless all those who fight for their countries. I was going to say you look like your father, but then realized that is you, pre-‘stache, in the second picture.

  2. That was probably the last pix without the ‘stache.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Tom, I always enjoy what you write!

  4. Thanks, ‘Tricia.


  5. Nyp says:

    Thank you for your service to our country.

  6. Vernon Clayson says:

    My time was earlier, it was long ago and far away, about three weeks for a letter, but one of my fondest memories is my mother writing to say that Eisenhower announced he would end the Korean war, when was the last time that anyone took for granted a president’s promise to end a war? I already knew about his announcement, of course, but mothers will be mothers, it was her confirmation I was to take seriously, she was mostly of Irish descent so always knew best. On your photograph, did your mother say, “You couldn’t put that cigarette down for a picture”?

  7. Rincon says:

    My father sounded similar to yours. Thanks for the flashback. You’re still serving your country Thomas.

  8. Nixon promised to keep me from going, Vernon.

    And that’s exactly what she would’ve said.

  9. Where did your father serve, Rincon?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Great memories about your Dad!

  11. Athos says:

    My dad was Army, serving in the European theater. He was happy he was in Bradley’s command, and spent a few years in post war Paris. I was spared Viet Nam, cause the draft ended before I was 1A. I remember my number was in the low 40s, from the lottery.

    Today was a day Dad would spend at the Vet, and march in the parade. God rest his soul, he wouldn’t have recognized what we’ve become over the last 12 years.

  12. Vernon Clayson says:

    Mr. Mitchell, we can’t compare Eisenhower’s declaration to end the war with Nixon’s promise to wind down the Vietnam war. Eisenhower’s name and record carried the issue while Nixon sent dramatist Henry Kissinger to negotiate and that pompous blowhard preferred hearing himself talk. He apparently believed he was talking on a level so sophisticated that only fellow geniuses could comprehend the complexity of the issue. Never mind that he droned on endlessly about the prospects for peace while our people still had to escape from the embassy rooftop by the skin of their teeth. Even with my skepticism I have to admit that Nixon wouldn’t have ordered the pilots of the helicopters to stand down.

  13. My parents had V-E Day and V-J Day, my generation had Bug-out Day.

  14. Rincon says:

    My father served in Europe. He was lucky enough to go over on D-day +2. His two brothers were in the Pacific and North Africa. We figured that our family had the war pretty well covered.

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