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.


2010 UPDATE:

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.”


Anonymous said...

I am so blessed and thankful to be a part of this awesome family and its legacy!!!!

bbj said...

Beautiful, BJ. A loving family is truly a gift.

Roy, Paul, Harold - bless them!

Sue said...

wonderful story BJ! You are too cute for words, LOVE the picture! Thanks for sharing your story.

Tiny said...

BJ, a beautiful story of your loving family and the picture is a real treasure.

Tiny had uncles and cousins by the dozens in WW II. She remembers being on the playground at recess when the school janitor came ripping across her garden to tell the teachers something.

With all the crying, screaming, jumping up and down, and hugging each other, Tiny was sure the oft repeated end of the world had arrived. She was scared speechless, too scared to move when the bell rang to go back inside.

Once inside 3rd grade classroom again, Mrs. Fulton said she had good news for us. She then announced that Mrs. Fronie had heard on the radio the war had ended. "Ended. The war is over!"

Tiny still didn't unwind. She was only hearing "war, war, war" and was waiting for the "duck and cover" command.

Today, knowing what nuclear bombs do, ducking under your desk and covering your head is no shelter from such wicked weapons and the ensuing death and destruction.

At this point, Tiny has had almost 56 years of up close and personal experiences with military from the 'halls of Montezuma' 'into the wild blue yonder.

There's something about those guys in uniforms ...

Good Southern Man said...

Just beautiful BJ!! Some of my friends do not hold this same pride that I myself hold for each and every member of our military!! Thanks to them, we are able to live in freedom and thier duty to protect this country goes beyond personal feelings or ideals. I want to offer a special thanks to all past and present members of our military!

Thank you BJ for such a wonderful article. I love hearing your accounts of Paul.


tnlib said...

Sweet trip down memory lane. War is hell and WW II was no exception, just more justified from the stand point that we were attacked and hopefully helped a few from the concentration camps. With the exception of this one, I can't see justification in any of the others - but I certainly support our brave men and women. Just wish there were no need for soldiers, sailors and marines.

Frodo, a veteran in his own right said...

Frodo stands beneath the Planet Venus this clear night in Georgia, and sings "Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream." This has become an annual event, to wit, without end.

Eyes right.

paula said...

A very moving tribute. I have a baby ring sent hammered out from a nickel and sent by an uncle who was in the Pacific during WWII. He also sent me a coin from New Guinea as a first Christmas present. I still have the card, too. Another uncle served as a medic in the Pacific. He didn't come home for two years after the war ended. To this day, no one in the family knows why, or else isn't saying. We assume he was in a mental hospital.