Pearl Harbor Day: Reflections of a Vet’s Daughter

by | Dec 7, 2014 | Blog


As the daughter of a World War II vet, Pearl Harbor Day holds a special significance to me. It means a bridge to the past, specifically my father’s past. It means celebrating the courage and valor of the men and women who fought against tyranny. Sadly, it also means a fading piece of history as we lose more and more of our greatist generation.

World War II changed my father’s life forever. In the summer of 1941, he was living the teenage dream as a lifeguard at Virginia Beach. But that December, his life changed forever when the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor and he joined thousands of other young men in the resulting war. By the next spring, he was on a Coast Guard transport ship en route to what would become known as the Battle of the Coral Sea. He would then fight in various Pacific campaigns until too wounded to return to duty in 1945.

My dad was an amazing storyteller. He was in New Guinea for most of the war effort so the version of the war I heard from him, homogenized for the ears of his little girl, was that it was a tropical paradise populated by exotic people like indigenous “medicine men” and beautiful grass-skirted women who prepared food he’d never experienced like jackfruit and coconuts. I heard about all of the hi-jinx of his fellow sailors and coasties, men with nicknames like Tex and Ace. We’d laugh together at all of the pictures of his mom and sister wearing the grass skirt souvenirs he brought back home to North Carolina while we thumbed through his photo album, this amazing scrapbook where he kept photos from both his campaigns and the happy reunions when he returned home.

I once eavesdropped on his conversation with his brother, a Marine who fought in Guadalcanal, and I overheard about the high price of war. They talked about their aches and pains just as any aging brothers might, but then my dad raised his pant leg to show the missing parts of his leg. It wasn’t until that moment that I understood what those Purple Heart medals in his dresser drawer really meant. In other conversations I heard him reminisce about another brother who flew as a pilot during the war and never made it home. It finally sunk in for me: the war wasn’t all coconuts and grass skirts, after all.

After my father’s death in 1997, his stories have almost faded away save for his war album and the occasional written account he tucked into its pages. I don’t think I truly appreciated his unique perspective until I married my soldier. There have been so many times over the last decade of war when I wished I could have picked up the phone and called my dad for his advice. Especially on September 11, 2001, I wished I could have heard his comforting voice as I experienced the similar fear of war upon news of a surprise attack, just as he did in December of 1941.

This Pearl Harbor Day, I’m struck by how many of these stories are lost to history as the soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses, coasties, and Marines pass away and take their personal accounts with them. I’m grateful for organizations like the World War II Museum’s efforts to record these voices and images for history and StoryCorps’ Military Voices initiative.

As the nation looks back this December on the 73rd anniversary of the attacks that pulled our country into war, my hope is that we can all solemnly reflect on their experiences and thank our veterans at a national level for the sacrifice and courage that helped win that war against oppression and tyranny.

Do you have a special World War II veteran in your life?

{Compensation for this post was provided by Operation In Touch via MSB New Media. Operation In Touch offers special savings, coupons, recipes, beauty tips, and editorial content tailored to the lives of active military families. Check out their website or find them on Facebook and Pinterest.Opinions expressed in this piece are my own.}

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