Every November for Veteran’s Day my 5th graders write a letter of thanks to a veteran of their choice or simply to one they might not know. They are distributed among the veterans who attend our annual program at the school. Few of the kids in my class (and the school) have any idea of what happened during World War II or the wars in Korea or Vietnam for that matter. I’d like to share part of a letter responding to a boy in my class who had written a letter addressed to “Dear Veteran” that was handed to one of the veterans at our program a few years ago, thanking him for his service. Among other things, the boy’s letter asked, “What did you do in the war?” Here is the response, addressed to “The Boy who wrote to veteran, North Park school”:
You will never know how happy it made me to receive your thank you letter at the assembly. You will understand why when I answer your question as to where I served. I served three years in World War II from 1943 to 1946. As you heard today, I steered a big ship during the war, we took the troops to invade a number of Islands. The first was Saipan in the western Pacific. Our generals wanted a place to land the airplanes bombing Japan. It was a hard battle as we had submarines attack us and planes bombing us, but we got all our Marines on land and they captured the island.
Next we invaded Tinian Island and here we were escorted by the Battleship Colorado. The Japanese shore guns wanted to sink the Colorado so they fired over our heads to try and hit the Colorado, it was not much fun to have enemy guns shooting over our heads because had they lowered the sites on their cannons they would have destroyed our ship.
Next we invaded Palau Island. Here we were lucky, we had trouble trying to lower our landing craft into the water, and while we were trying to figure out what was wrong the landing crafts from other ships were stranded on a reef which made it possible for the enemy guns to destroy them.
Next we invaded Leyte in the Philippines. Here again we were lucky. The enemy thought they would surprise us by sending their battleships through the middle of the Islands and would have destroyed us except they thought all of our aircraft carriers were there when the bombing started and ran for cover.
When we invaded Luzon Island, we were met by suicide planes that didn’t have enough fuel to return to their bases, so they purposely crashed into our ships. I guess you could say it was very exciting. We were caught in a typhoon which destroyed two of our destroyers and our captain said we would have sunk too if I had not steered the ship exactly where he ordered.
Our last invasion was Okinawa. This time the suicide planes hit our ship hard, and while we did not sink had to return to America to get repairs. The atomic bomb ended the war in the Pacific but our job was not through. We had to transfer Chinese troops from IndoChina to northern China which took us six months, so we never got a welcome home. It seems like everyone had forgotten about the war by the time we got home. No one had thanked me until you wrote your letter, so thank you again.
I’ve kept a copy of this letter (my student has the original, which I hope he’ll treasure for a long time) as a reminder of the debt we owe all of our service men and women in uniform who sacrificed in one way or another for the benefit of those generations yet to come. Having visited Normandy as a youth while we were living in France, I still remember the expansive stretches of beach at low tide and think back now on that trip and how we played in the surf and ran through the tide pools that were once the killing fields of June 6, 1944. My mind still can’t fully comprehend the heroic, selfless deeds that ordinary men rendered as they saw what needed to be done and crawled up those bluffs. They did it not only for their country but moreover the love of their buddies beside them.
Not everyone who served has seen combat or has been in harm’s way, but everyone has played an important role in triumphing over tyranny in one way or another. As I see the ever changing faces of America’s enemies, I feel confident knowing that there are those who volunteer to ensure our safety by sacrificing their time and expertise on our behalf and will defend this country at all costs.
Lately there’s been loads of opinion one way or another about kneeling during our national anthem, flying the American flag or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. In my opinion, this is the greatest nation in the world and I love everything about her. She is indeed “land that I love.” I also relish the words penned by an anonymous author who wrote “Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it, it flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it.” God bless our veterans everywhere.