Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day - 2014

Only about one-sixth of the men serving in the military during WWII saw any combat. My father (R), saw quite a bit of it…my father-in-law (L) saw none. However, my father-in-law captured a Japanese soldier, an accomplishment for which he received quite a bit of notoriety and respect. As with many such stories, there was a “rest of the story” to it.

The Rest of the Story. My father-in-law, Larry, was an older man with a wife, a young daughter, and a burgeoning career as a big band leader. For him, WWII was a nuisance that he wanted to avoid, if he could…so he didn’t volunteer for service, he had a family to support and was gambling that the draft would not reach men his age. Nevertheless, he received his draft notice in April 1944, about a year before the end of WWII. He was 29. Found among his things was the newspaper clipping from his hometown paper. It told 2-stories, although he only knew one of them—he was one of those scraped from the “bottom of the barrel” as proclaimed in the circled headline.

The second article, circled at lower right, told of the largest Air Force bombing raid ever launched; this one, one of the first sent to Berlin. My father, the guy on the right above, was one of those flying that mission. Larry never knew the combined story, nor did my father. I put the story together after comparing their separate records.

In late July 1945 Larry was aboard a troop transport with several thousand others sailing west from San Francisco…destination, Okinawa, a Japanese island about 450-miles south of the Japanese mainland. The Battle for Okinawa, which claimed about 65,000 Allied casualties, had just wound up in June. Okinawa was to be the staging ground for the invasion of Japan and Larry was slated to be one of the soldiers in the invading army. Fortunately for him, President Truman made the decision to drop the first 2 atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki while Larry was on that troop ship and the war ended. His procrastination had paid off, but only by a small margin.

Okinawa was a mess when he got there. Besides the 65,000 Allied casualties, there were over 100,000 Japanese soldiers lost during the battle. And there continued to be isolated Japanese resistance for many weeks after war’s end.

Larry was a good-humored, skilled raconteur who often told the story of his capture of a Japanese soldier on Okinawa—something very few soldiers ever accomplished. He was on the crapper, pants down, and his rifle a few steps away when he looked up and saw a Japanese soldier advancing on him from across a field with his rifle braced diagonally across his chest. Larry was in a tough situation…largely incapacitated, his rifle a few steps away. For a few seconds that seemed like an eternity, Larry had no idea how he was going to get out of his rotten predicament.

Suddenly, the Japanese soldier threw down his rifle and raised his hands over his head. He was surrendering…to Larry, the first American soldier he could find--the one sitting on the crapper. He hurried to hitch up his pants, grab his rifle, and take charge of his prisoner. Larry never told the whole story to others while he was in the service, preferring to be known as the guy who had single-handedly captured the Japanese soldier on Okinawa.

His soldierly feat, along with his musical expertise paved the way for him to find a band leader assignment to the Army Band in Occupied Japan for a couple of years after the war. It was during those years that the picture above was undoubtedly taken. Larry was also the “very tall Wally” who never fixed things I mentioned in a previous article HERE. He was a helluva guy.

Dad’s picture above also has an interesting story. It was taken in London during late March 1944, just after he had completed his first 6 missions…the ones during which many young aviators lost their lives as “green crews” flying in the tail-end Charlie position. Sitting beside him were his pilot and co-pilot. He described this leave and portrait sitting in his journal which is how I was able to fit it into his story. Four of those first six missions were to Berlin and were among the bloodiest ever flown by the Eighth Air Force…it was a miracle he was alive to be sitting for this picture. Those anxious young eyes were very quickly becoming more serious as the days passed. Notice there were no ribbons on his chest at this point…the vacant space would fill up substantially during the ensuing weeks as he flew 44 more.

...and he was buying me a drink (Andy Rooney)

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