A little girl's pride in military
Front: Elowease (cousin), 16; Betty Jean (‘B.J.’), 3; Martha (sister), 15; middle row: Sarah (aunt), 18; Ruth (friend), Mary (sister), 17; back row: Leroy (‘Roy’ - brother), 19, in his Navy uniform; and Gilbert (cousin’s husband). Younger brother Isaac was born shortly after this family portrait. Photo: 1945.
This column was published in the Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail, 29 August 1987:
A little girl grew up with pride in the military
By B. J. Trotter
Recently I made what our boys in white would call “one helluva mistake.”
I identified a group of sailors in a photograph pertaining to the USS Stark incident as marines.
I received a friendly note from a chief petty officer, retired, U.S. Navy, advising me, “Marines would never dress like sailors, nor would sailors permit them.”
The feedback from my boss, an ex-Navy man, was somewhat sterner.
I regret the error. I know a sailor when I see one.
My appreciation of our men in service goes back as long as I can remember. An early photograph, a favorite, was made the day my brother Roy came home from the Navy. In it I am a happy, cotton-topped, 3-year-old, posing with Roy and family and wearing one of his white sailor hats.
Roy had been stateside and was being shipped out for combat duty when WWII ended. He experienced the horrors of war in Corpus Christi, Texas, when two PVMs – sea planes – collided, and Roy was a rescue team member who helped retrieve 25 bodies and rescue four survivors.
My mother gave Roy a lucky silver dollar when he left to join the Navy. He brought it home to his “Sis,” and I have it still as a reminder of his service to his country.
I have other reminders. Two brothers-in-law have shared their memories of that war and long ago cemented my appreciation for things military.
Paul sailed aboard aircraft carriers, the USS Hornet (commissioned after the first Hornet was sunk) and the USS Tarawa, and on what he calls a “tin can,” the destroyer USS O’Hare.
A Kamikaze pilot changed Paul’s looks. His suicidal strike came in too close for comfort under the ship, and my brother-in-law claims his hair turned gray overnight.
Along with gray hairs, Paul brought back another souvenir, a kaleidoscope made from a spent shell’s casing. Despite its lovely changing colors, it left an unpleasant metallic smell on my fingers. But, the little girl could see no contrast of patriotism’s beauty and war’s ugliness in the toy.
Brother-in-law Harold was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne, Rainbow Division. Harold met America’s enemy coming over a hilltop in western Germany. He was among the first Americans to enter Germany just prior to Hitler’s suicide and the fall of the Third Reich. The 101st parachuted into Germany, marched 50 miles and took the first town.
Shot in the eye with a wooden bullet – with supply routes cut off, the Germans were out of ammunition - Harold’s souvenir of the war was a Purple Heart. The German soldier who shot Harold was killed by his buddy, who retrieve a watch and a wife's or sweetheart's photo from his body and handed them to Harold, sad souvenirs.
I learned early that “War is hell” from sneaking looks at his Rainbow Division albums with photo after photo of boxcars filled with emaciated and naked dead men – victims of the Holocaust.
I also learned early that this country must be pretty special for men to endure so much to protect it.
Their tales of war served me well in later years. When I entered college at age 34, I opted to take ROTC. This choice was not some patriotic gesture on my part: I wanted to get out of Tennis and Badminton 101. I could never see the ball or birdie!
Despite my pointed questions – “Why doesn’t this military textbook include the air raid on Dresden, Germany?” – I won the Military History Award.
One thing has impressed me most in the four decades since those guys went off to war: their memories of their military days have remained with them – living not in protest, but in pride.
I grew up with their pride, and it didn’t take a chief petty officer, retired, or a boss to remind me of that.
Brother-in-law Paul died in 2008 at age 86. He was a retired postal worker and National Guardsman, recepient of the three highest honors bestowed by the Mississippi National Guard. Paul was the very definition of a good man and always did for others. He was a skilled baker of beautiful cakes and made wedding cakes as gifts for the young brides in his church. He spent his last couple of years having the time of his life with friends in an assisted living facility.
Brother-in-law Harold was a dynamic salesman – a Buick Salesmaster – who died of complications from Alzheimer’s. I could always count on Harold for help.
My brother Roy, now 84, was a car salesman, civic leader, ski club president and Grenada (Miss.) Reservoir water rescue team founder. A deadringer for Frank Sinatra, Roy is ever jolly and fun-loving. We have wonderful phone chats, trips down memory lane, and he still calls me “Sis.”
Good fathers all.
The little girl, now a retired newspaper editor, is 68 and today fully understands the expression, “Hate the war; love the warrior.”