The Veteran

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Greetings to Those Who Follow,

Reading the Sunday paper today, I realized that Sunday was Veteran's Day.  I missed it.  I thought of Dad.  Dad would be 80 this year, grizzled perhaps but never old. 

It's never too late to remember:

I was raised by a WW II veteran who fought in the bloodiest battles of Europe as a front-line soldier. He was my father.

In 1943, the U.S. War Department in need of manpower, sent out recruiters asking for volunteers to form a new combat team made up of Americans of Japanese ancestry, the U.S. Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team. 12,500 men from the then Territory of Hawai'i volunteered. 

At a time when the civil liberties and rights of Americans of Japanese ancestry were being stripped away and "their families imprisoned in internment camps (on the mainland US) and prejudices existed at the upper ranks of the military, in the trenches of Europe and in the Pacific Theatre", my father, 21 years old, volunteered to fight for America and its freedom.

After encountering racial prejudice while being combat trained at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, he was shipped half a world away, as a PFC (private first class), to fight a war in Italy, France, and Germany. 

His combat team became the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in American military history:

"The 442nd/100th sustained 9,486 wounded and over 600 killed suffered, the highest casualty rate of any American unit during the war."
~ Source

"(They) were awarded 18,143 decorations, including 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, 560 Silver Stars (28 with Oak-leaf clusters), 22 Legions of Merit, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 12 Croix de Guerre and 9,486 Purple Hearts." 
~ Source 

Grandmother Satsuma told me the happiest day in her life was the day Dad came home alive as a recovering corporal, injured but very much alive. With a patriotic, victory parade, the entire village honored him as a war hero. 

The news that his combat team had saved the Texas "Lost Battalion" preceded his return, and his home village -- and the world -- had learned about the unprecedented heroism of these island boys, turned heroic combat soldiers. To save 211 trapped Texans, my father's combat team fought the bloodiest battle of the war, suffering 2,000 casualties, including 140 killed.

[As Fate would have it, years later, one of my clients is one of these 211 Texans.]

An inquisitive little girl, I was poking around and found a shoebox of medals and war memorabilia which was shoved into the farthest corner under a bed in Mom's sewing room in the basement. From time to time, I'd crawl under the bed and pull it out, just to admire and finger the medals, tarnished by the tropical Hawaiian air.  I wondered what happened  in "The War." What were Dad's deeds of valor? 

He never spoke of them. There was an unsaid rule in our house: "The War" was a forbidden topic. His war experiences were so horrific and heart-wrenching, that not until his last years was he able to speak of them, when time's balm had finally tempered the pain.

Early  on, I was clued in to the pain. One Sunday afternoon, when I was about ten, Dad was napping. As a mother is filled with love looking at her sleeping baby, I was filled with an overwhelmingly love for my father as he peacefully slept. Gently, I planted a kiss on his cheek. 

In a split second, I was violently knocked off my feet to the floor.  Profoundly startled, he was on his feet in a combat stance, roaring. Shocked, I looked up at him with eyes wide open. I'll never forget the ferocity -- the fire -- that was in his eyes.

Just as quickly, a glazed look came over them as he transitioned back into wakefulness.  When he realized what happened, fear replaced the ferocity. He scooped me into his arms, asking me if I was alright.  

Speechless, I nodded my head. Holding me tightly to his chest, he rocked me back and forth, sobbing as he apologized over and over again, "I'm sorry, so sorry, I thought I was still in the war, so sorry..." 

Dad's streaming tears scared me more than being knocked down. I burst into tears, and our tears mingled as we rocked in unison, holding each other. Between sobs, I promised him that I would never kiss him while he was asleep, never ever again.  

My father lived with his unspoken horrors for most of his life. Whenever life was stressful, he was visited by recurrent dreams. His subconscious mind flash-backed to the front-line trenches to relive the horrors of war.  Once again, he watched his buddies die or dying around him.  Once more, he was being bombarded by the  heavy artillery. Once again, he was put in the situation of "Kill, or be killed."

Bolting upright in bed, his quivering face would horribly contort in blind terror, and his blood-curdling screams pierced the dead of night.  Dad's night terrors haunted all of us. 

The next morning, he remembered nothing. These days, he would be identified as a sufferer of the invisible injuries of war called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
 is a natural emotional reaction to a 
deeply shocking and disturbing experience. 
It is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
~ Source

The symptoms are surprisingly common and include sleep problems, nightmares and waking early, impaired memory, inability to concentrate, hypervigilance (feels like but is not paranoia), jumpiness and exaggerated startle response, fragility and hypersensitivity, irritability, violent outbursts, joint and muscle pains,
panic attacks, fatigue, low self-esteem, exaggerated feelings of guilt, feelings of nervousness and anxiety.

Among combat veterans, over 50% are estimated to have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. For the most part, the World War II vets suffered in stoic silence.  

To his last, Dad was proud to be an American. He taught me respect, honor, and discipline, as well as to revere the flag as a symbol of  freedom and to love my country and its opportunities. 

By his living example, he showed me how to make the American Dream come true:  He lived and breathed his combat team's motto, "Go For Broke!"  Its meaning is "risk everything, give everything you have--all or nothing."  

As he had done in the war's killing fields, he went for broke in the papaya farm fields of Hawai`i.  With clearly defined, focused goals that he was committed to achieve, he became a pioneer and founder of a farming industry with an international reach.

He taught me to never forget those who have come and gone before us. Every Memorial Day, he remembered his fallen comrades. We'd drive 20 miles out to the veteran's cemetery, and he'd gather us around their graves as he solemnly placed bouquets of flowers that he would put together himself alongside the markers..  

He ignored the observance of Veteran's Day, turning down invitations to participate in Veteran's Day ceremonies and march alongside grizzled old veterans of the first world war. He never wanted to be feted for being in a war. 

Veteran's Day was a non-holiday spent at the beach as a family. As he did every Sunday, he'd spend the entire day with us, fishing, picnicking together, reading, napping, singing together, hugging, and loving us. 

On Veteran's Day, he'd "Go for Broke!" being a great Dad, not just for him or for us, but for the buddies he lost.

Sacrificing their young lives to defend The United States of America, those buddies never made it home to become veterans, to become Dads. 

Today, I remember them, I remember Dad. I continue to live their motto, "Go for Broke!"  I hope I have become the best daughter that I can be, not only for my Dad, but for all of them.

"Life is a Gift."

Author Unknown

P.S.  If you would like to share a portion of yourself  with words, in response to this journal entry, you may do it here.  

 "The only gift is a portion of thyself..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson


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This web journal was created on a September Morn, 
September 29, 2001
September Morn 2001