Printed November 5, 2019

They returned in silence

Friends, family who came back from war didn’t talk about it

By Janice Edwards/ The Bulletin

There are all kinds of remembrances on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, but many of us who are not veterans of war have no concept of how much thanks we owe to those who went to war so that we all could remain free.

Like my dad - and the thousands of combat veterans, many of who returned and kept their experiences to themselves.

I’m thinking about all the veterans I’ve known in my life. Family and friends, including Robbie Edwards, Darrell Powell, Bill Barnes, Roy Zettle (deceased), Leonard Hulsebosh (deceased) and my dad (deceased.)

Each of these men experienced service to their nation in different ways – in different times. And, I noticed that none of them spoke much about their experiences, and how very few civilians understood their sacrifices.

Most of the veterans I mentioned fought in Vietnam. One reason they didn’t talk much about their experiences was because Vietnam was a very unpopular war. Veterans coming home were often disrespected.

But I think part of it was for the same reason my Dad never talked about what he went through – what they saw was more horrible than we could conceive. They internalized their horrors.

I have been thinking a lot about my dad and how much I still do not know about his service. He fought in the Pacific Theatre in World War II and was older than most men being drafted.

Growing up, he never disciplined me or my sisters and brother. It turns out, he taught hand-to-hand combat to soldiers on the ship taking them to the front. He was afraid he would hurt us, so Mom took care of the corrections

He liked growing things: his pecan trees, his garden and his orange tree. He liked making things with his hands. He made a living making butcher blocks, tables, counter tops, and cutting boards – working with wood. When the family made weekend trips to Surfside and had time to talk and unwind, what happened during the war never came up.

After he died, we opened his cedar chest and found his pictures, souvenirs and military papers. We realized that he was an unsung hero. Then we understood why he never talked about his contributions.

We found what we thought was a Japanese diary - it turned out to be an address book - which we returned to the Japanese embassy; some sea shells; a bracelet made of silver coins; his survival kit; his hat; a Japanese sword, his discharge papers and a scrapbook of pictures of places he had been.

He held the rank of private, but once in the heat of battle, he was promoted to sergeant, only to be demoted after the battle ended.

He was on the advance team, making way for General McArthur’s return, in the Pacific islands. Dad was a gunner on a 50-caliber machine gun and was awarded three bronze spear points (for being part of the original invasion crew on enemy held territory) for three island landings. It appeared the government still owed him a fourth one that he never collected.

There were papers showing that Dad’s 50-caliber machine gun crew won the Pacific Island machine gun marksmanship contest in Hawaii. He was the guy the enemy wanted to take out – he pulled the trigger on destruction, and evidently was good at it.

I looked at the pictures in his scrapbook. The camps, his friends, Dad in a hula skirt, and then, the picture that will haunt me until the day I die - a dead Japanese soldier sticking partially out of a fox hole.

I only saw that horror once. No telling how many times Dad saw similar and worse carnage. Now I understood why he never talked about the war. A gentle man changed by service to his country.

Dad was just one veteran, but there are hundreds of thousands who sacrifice pieces of their lives for the good of the nation. Please take a minute and think about what these men and women have done to keep our homeland safe.

(Jan wants to hear from you. Write her in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)