Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yeah, I've been seeing another site...

Despite what you see on this blog I actually do a bit of writing though the year.
This is from a post I made to the site

A friend of mine passed away on Wednesday.

Two years ago in a fit of ennui I got in contact with my local Coast Guard Auxiliary. I wanted join an organization that I could put some volunteer time into, and the idea of slinging soup and hosannas at the mission shelter didn’t appeal to me..

The Coast Guard Aux is an all volunteer organization. It has been around since 1939 and its average membership age is about 56. At 35 I was the youngest person in the room.

It was with this organization that I was first able to truly work with the people that Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” Men and Women my Grandfathers age, Veterans of World War 2 and Korea.

They’re old, they’re frail, they move slowly. Their conversations tend to wander. But they KNOW things, They’ve BEEN places, and in each of them there is a bar of Steel that their souls are wrapped around.

These are the men that have lived the history you were taught, and the movies that you watch. “Saving Private Ryan” to them it isn’t just a 2 dimensional moving picture with a THX sound track. They felt the slaps of the waves though the steel deck. They tasted the bile in their throat and smelt the diesel of the landing craft exhaust.

A few years ago I met my wife’s Grandfather before he died. He was very old and in the hospital, so my meeting with him was a simple hello.

Later that day at his house they showed me his mementos. One of which was a campaign belt.
Stephen Putnam was a Marine stationed on the USS South Dakota during WW2 He was a plank owner, which means that he was part of the first crew during her commissioning. On his campaign belt was written the names of the battles I’ve only read about.

One name battle leapt out at me. “Second Battle of Guadalcanal”.

Imagine if you will, being on board a Battleship in combat. You have a station. As a Marine on board most likely manning a ships gun, a 5inch 38 Caliber DP gun in a twin mount. You are in a metal box with other men. Your job is to feed a piece of machinery that hurls 55 pound shells. In this cramped hot space. The gun when fired will recoil backwards tremendously fast. If you are in front of it. It will crush you. It is too loud to communicate with others, and all commands must be repeated to ensure accuracy. Our job is to repeat the same task, get rounds down range. A description of the firing process is here:

There is little armor between you and your enemy in a 5 inch mount, any of the shells being thrown at you can penetrate it. A shell bursting inside your turret will kill everyone inside; a flashing powder charge will incinerate you. If the ship sinks, you and the others in your turret will have to escape out of a single locked down door.

And now with the stage set let the curtain rise on the scene. It is November 14th 1942, and since August, American and Japanese forces in the Pacific have been fighting over a island called Guadalcanal. You’ve been under air attack before; The South Dakota has been credited with shooting down 26 enemy planes a few weeks ago at the Battle of Santa Cruz.

Last night American Forces were engaged in a night action off of Savo Island, many American ships were sunk but the Japanese were turned back. Now, Admiral Halsey has detached your ship and the USS Washington to intercept yet another Japanese attempt to attack your fellow Marines fighting on the islands. You go to action stations, ready your gun and wait. It is almost midnight.

The opening of the action is a brief firing at targets seen on radar to the north. Those soon disappear. Sunk?

Then 5 minutes later the screening destroyers get into a firefight, In 10 minutes 2 destroyers are sunk and the other 2 are too damaged to continue and withdraw from the fight. It’s just you and the Washington now.

Suddenly your turret looses power. The blowers stop and the gun no longer response to the controls. Emergency lighting is all that is left. Your ship has lost electrical power and you have no lights, radar, you can’t train the guns and the ship cannot be controlled. Racing along uncontrolled at 26 knots, you pass the burning wreckage of the sinking Destroyers, Silhouetting you to the Enemy.

Over the next half hour your ship will take some 40+ hits, coming under fire from the entire Japanese force at times. They will kill 39 of your friends and shipmates and wound another 59. This entire time you will sit in your dark box unable to reply. Some power will be restored and enough partial control will allow your ships guns to respond. The contribution will be ineffective, the majority of tonight fighting will be handled by the Washington.

My wife’s grandfather lived this, this is his story. My Friend Doug Roberts also served in the Navy and was at Omaha Beach. Once I met a man who had been with the 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.

I would have liked a chance to talk to these men, ask them about their experiences, and compare them to my own. But I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities I was presented with when I had them.

One by one these people are dying off, their stories will be lost to time. As of this writing there is One remaining doughboy from World War One alive, And soon he’ll be gone too.

And so my purpose of this writing is to encourage you to seek out these people, and take time to listen to them. Honor them and what they have achieved, and compare their trials to your own. They have stories to tell you and lessons to teach, and their time is running short.

“And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.”

“Henry V” Shakespeare