My dad was in the US Navy during WWII. He was a landing craft operator. He was one of the guys who took Marines to the beach and went back for more. He was a young husband and father of a little black haired, brown eyed girl whom he adored. He had heard the radio broadcast while having breakfast with my mom and sister. America had been viciously attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.He recounted that story to me many times and so did my mom. They were simply horrified. My dad said he looked at my mom and she began to cry. They both knew at that moment the he would be leaving them to serve. That scene was played out across this great country millions of times. The US was at war; World War. Nothing would ever be the same again.
My father was sent to California to train for the Pacific invasions. He worked hard to learn his job. He loved it. He told me many times that he felt confident in that boat, and he had a feeling of self worth for the first time in his life. He was part of something huge. The peace of the world was at stake and he had a part in that.
The training was rough but the men of that era were accustomed to hard work and tough times. They had come up through the great depression. Many of them saw the military as a step up from their hard lives on the sharecropper farms and sweat houses. Three hot meals and clean sheets of the Navy was the reason my dad joined that branch.
He had finished training for a particular invasion with his shipmates and Marines. They orders came down that they were to embark for missions unknown, but certainly they were going into harm’s way. He was proud of this group. My dad told me how he had written to my mother and my sister telling them how much he loved them and letting them know he would be back to them soon. But dad told me that he could not shake the feeling that he would not make it back. His sea bag was packed and the sailors and marines were lined up ready to go aboard. Just as my dad stepped up to the gangplank, he heard his name called. “Seaman 1st class, Hamm, fall out.” He followed the order and stood to the side. A young Ensign came up to him and after the obligatory salute and report, my dad asked what this was about. The young officer in white said, “You have been pulled from this invasion. We are needing some instructors for the next invasion force, and you have been chosen. According to your fitness report, you are one of the top drivers. ”
Dad told me how sad he felt and a bit mad that he was pulled away from the guys he had trained with. They were ready for action. Now he was being torn away from them and would have to go through those motions again. He was not a happy seaman.
Fast forward one month: The young Ensign in the white uniform entered the day room of the barracks and posted the casualty reports of the battle group my dad had been pulled from. His ship, the one he was taken away from, was sunk by a submarine and all hands went down. No survivors.
This same situation happened to my dad on three separate occasions. He would train with a group for an invasion and then be pulled at the gangplank to become an instructor. All three of those ships he was scheduled for were sunk in the Pacific. No survivors.
When I was a child my dad talked of those days often. He instilled in me the love for my country. My dad showed me pictures of him and his friends. He would say ” This is Dominic. We called him Domi for short” He went down on the second ship.” He never forgot those men.
I shall never forget the first time we got a tv. My dad and I watched a war movie. Run Silent , Run Deep. Then the tv was going off the air at midnight. They closed the day of broadcast with the National Anthem and the Flag flying in the wind. They showed a background collage of ships and planes and soldiers, and seamen and marines. They showed the flag on Iwo Jima.
At the first sound of the Anthem, my dad, in his pajamas, stood proudly in our little living room and put his hand over his heart. Tears dripped from his chin most every night. He said to me “son always stand for the anthem. It’s not about that flag, it’s about all those men and women who died in our place.
So this Memorial Day, remember, it’s not about the flag. it’s about the people who died for what that flag represents. Never forget those people. I still stand for the flag and the anthem. I still tear up (like now) and remember Domi, and all the men who went to their deaths in the sea. I remember my dad who would have willingly died alongside his buddies. I stand for them and all those who have paid the enormous price for our freedom.
It’s not about the flag, it’s about the people. So if the flag offends you, maybe the memory of the people won’t. I pray that no one forgets…..ever.