On this day in 1941

“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

Herbert Aubrey Mitchell

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 is 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 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.

10 comments on “On this day in 1941

  1. Randa Todd says:

    Loved reading this again Mitch.
    I thank your father for all his antics, and winning the war.

  2. LINDA MILLER says:

    I didn’t know your dad, but I love him for what he did. He’s a great man in my book.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Amazing stuff.

    Never could have done it myself glad he was one of the ones that could

  4. Athos says:

    Thanks for sharing, Thomas. My Uncle Jim was a marine in the Pacific Theater and his older brother was a paratrooper on D-Day. I’m watching “Band of Brothers” to see just what Uncle Ron went thru.

    My father was a Lieutenant in the Army. All he really spoke about was running a hotel in post war Paris and ushering out in late ’46. If there was any PTSD, they hid it well. They all came home and created the “baby boom” generation. And we’re coming to an end of that age, aren’t we?

  5. Bill says:

    I remember this day, 81 years ago. I had come into the house and my Mother and her sewing circle were crying because they had just heard over the radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I was young and I really didn’t understand. I had little reference for anything except where I lived in California. I had never heard of Pearl Harbor or Hawaii for that matter. It didn’t take long to learn. Our Country went from shock into a full stride war effort.

    Over the course of the war, there were so many memories, and lessons that I learned.
    I recall the separation and some shattered lives of those who had to serve and the impact on the families who stayed home. Mrs. Appendale, The lady across the street with a houseful of kids depended on county welfare because her husband was a prisoner of war in the Phillipine Islands.

    Few had cars and even if they did, there was no gasoline unless you were in a critical job. I remember rationing of just about everything. Gas, sugar, flour, meat, nylon stockings and just about everything else was rationed. People had ration books and even with ration books some items were restricted.
    There were shortages in everything. Food, clothing, heat and shelter were all scarce. Everything produced went to the war effort. There no longer were any imports of rubber or silk. Women drew lines on the calf of their legs to simulate the seam of nylon stockings (elastic pantyhose had not yet been invented) and there were constant “war drives” to collect tin, glass, paper andd There was bi TVm No one had much of anything and much more. Everything was scarce. Everyone bitched but few complained. You just made do and tried to do your best.
    The Japanese were interned and no one objected. They hadn’t coined the diagnosis of PTSD yet but most understood there was something called “Combat Fatigue” My uncle Todd who had fought at Guadacanal with the Army had nightmares for years after and a Marine Vet my family knew had lost his arm was haunted by the fact he was no longer whole and no longer capable of doing the things he had done before and he had the feeling that he looked odd and deformed and thus avoided contact with others, particularly young ladies of his age. Everyone lived in the fear of a Japanese invasion or fire bombing by Japanese balloons. Civilians manned wooden towers at night and plotted, reported and logged any sighted aircraft. Everyone celebrated the 4th of July and there was always a big parade. And so WWII ended in 1945 and 5 years later we were off to fight in Korea to rein North Korea (and Russia) who had invaded South Korea. In retrospect, maybe we should have listened to General Patton.

  6. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Bill says:

    You are welcome. Your blog initially dragged up a lot of memories for me. One more thought. The war brought about something that was largely unknown at that time and that was women out in the workforce at jobs other than teaching and nursing. Before the war, it just wasn’t done.

  8. Athos says:


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