Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank You Veterans / WWII Era Scans

My grandfather passed away in early 2008, and I find myself thinking about him often around Veterans Day. I feel a bit strange that it's not Christmas or Thanksgiving or the other family holidays that makes me constantly reminisce about him but so it goes. When he died, I certainly wasn't able to eulogize him at his funeral, as there is no way I could have kept it together. A couple of years have passed, and maybe I'm just now able to deal, but then again how does one ever really grieve properly. I called up my grandmother today to be of comfort in case she was feeling sad, and she wasn't home. Instead, I heard my grandfather's doddering voice on the answering machine. My grandmother still has not changed the message since he died, and I found myself sobbing like a baby, maybe because I've been thinking about all this for the past couple weeks. I used to always wonder why she left it on there, but now I guess I find it strangely comforting.

He was 82 when he died and was pretty much a shell of his former self by the time he gave up the ghost. I'm very thankful that he hung on long enough to be around for the birth of my two children, but by the end he was pretty vacant. He'd witnessed all his friends die before him, the prize of the long-aged, and years of smoking cigarettes had taken their toll. Still he had my grandmother, and it is hard to let a loved one go. He led a full life, and I hate to view his existence only through the lens of his military service, but in many ways I think it made him the man he was. And even though there are many strong men in my family, there will never be another one remotely like him. If the shrapnel that damaged his hearing during the war had been a little more effective, no one in that side of the family including yours truly would be around to tell the tale.

He was a proud Marine and served in the Pacific Theater during most of WWII. Trained in some sort of secret radar which he never used, he would go on to serve as a gunner of various small aircraft and later in the war was on the ground at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and many other islands in the Pacific. He did like to talk about the war, but he almost never talked about specific battles. He'd talk about taking all those pigeons for all their pay in some enormous poker game, or his time on shore leave, or getting terribly sunburnt playing tennis all day on some slab the military had poured on some little island, or of the strange and beauteous cultures of the islanders he encountered. My grandmother's mentioned a few times that she's awoken with his hands around her neck with him screaming in some flashback to terrible events clearing those islands of Japanese soldiers, but like most of that generation, he kept those horrors to himself.

The two things I loved most about my granddad, I think he picked up in the war, the first being an amazing level of comfort in talking with other people. Whether he was shooting the shit with doctors and lawyers at the golf course or joking around with a rural farmer at Wal-Mart (two groups I might admittedly feel out of place around), he was always at ease, and I think this might be something he picked up during the war. All those boys from all over America came together for a common purpose, and after meeting all these guys he was cowed by or surprised by no one. Born a master bullshitter, he could make anyone smile. When he'd take me on a fishing trip or wherever we might be headed, he eschewed the highways in favor of the backroads and relished getting out there in the nooks and crannies of America. This would suit him well in his long and successful career as an advertising consultant for mom and pops furniture stores in small towns all over the country.

The second thing I think he took away from the war was an indomitable spirit, a can-do attitude that was infectious. That generation pulled together and stepped up in the face of enormous odds, protecting the liberty of the American people and as far as I'm concerned the liberty of the globe. After that, what can't you do? I recently watched the excellent HBO miniseries The Pacific and it really made me realize how tough those guys had it in the Pacific. He told me once that after surviving the war, it's all gravy, and the positive and joyful way he lived his life was convincing of the fact.

We didn't always see eye to eye on politics and other matters, but we always had a great time talking about just about anything. He had some bass ackwards views on certain things, but I think in the past decade I've come to realize what an asset that generation was to our political discourse. When I was a teen, I'll admit to having the thought that, well, once all these old-timers are gone with their conservative views, America will be a better place. I was wrong. Sure that generation might have in some ways operated against what I'd call social progress, but they were civil, reasonable, and possessed common sense. When I talk to elder seniors about politics or current events, I'm almost always impressed with how informed they are and with their wisdom. After 30+ years of the culture wars and what I view as a breakdown in the traditional media, America is heavily lacking in many of the qualities that that greatest generation brought to the table. Whether we are fighting the combined war machines of Tojo and Hitler or massive debt and a plundered economic system and heartless plutocracy, we're still all in this together, and I wish we'd act like it. Ah well, enough of that.

My granddad rests at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery in KS, and, though we never really thought of him as a military man (except he did shave every day of his life and ran a tight ship),our family is happy to have him rest with his brothers in arms and appreciated the military ceremony when he was laid to rest. He loved meeting other Marines and dishing out friendly insults to the oldtimers he'd meet from the other services. I know he went through hell out on those islands, and I thank him and all who have served in our military.

Anyways, I've been thinking about the guy and reading a little WWII History, so I thought I'd put together some scans from the era, my way of reaching out and touching the past. Beyond working with books and magazines of the era, there are all sorts of rewarding digitization projects in WWII History. The time is now while there's still some of these guys around because there's not many left. I've seen some amazing photo albums from WWII veterans, and if you've got one in your family, you might consider putting it on the glass. Instead of just having one person in your fam as the holder of the photos, scan them, and every single person in your family or who will come into your family in the future will have the chance to have that unique tie to the past. I know I'm going to ask my grandma about scanning my granddad's flight book with the record of all the places he went during WWII and while I'm at it I hope to scan the whole damn family album. Our ties to History should be nourished, and we've got more tools to do that in the digital age with the ability to easily capture and share images, audio, and video. Hop to it!

It's late, and though I did manage to finish all but one of the scans I had planned for today, I'm just gonna post one and keep the others coming over the next few days.

American Library 02 Guadalcanal Diary (1943.McKay)

Scrollable Image

Get the cover to cover scan here of this interesting illustrated adaptation of Richard Tregaskis' Guadalcanal Diary. This publication is listed in the Overstreet comic guide, but besides it being in the pamphlet format, I certainly wouldn't think of it as a comic. It follows along and takes excerpts from the book and is adorned by a nice cover and illustrations throughout by Edgar Franklin Wittmack who had a long career working in both the slicks and the pulps.

The American invasion at Guadalcanal was our first big push back at the Japanese after Pearl Harbor and other Japanese aggression in the Pacific and was meant to prevent Australia from becoming isolated by Japanese forces. We landed our troops safely and caught the Japanese off guard, but they would try mightily to retake the island. Tregaskis was a volunteer correspondent and his book became an immediate success and was made into a film the following year:

Because of Tregaskis' description of the camaraderie amongst Marines, the USMC still makes Guadalcanal Diary required reading for all officer candidates. I wasn't terribly thrilled by Tregaskis' style, but I plan to add the full book to my WWII reading list. You can most certainly find a copy in your local library or Google Books has it available digitally online here:

Guadalcanal Diary at Google Books

A Map of the area and the title page:

Scrollable Image

Scrollable Image

I really like how Tregaskis makes a point to give the hometown of every soldier he writes about. This page immediately jumped out as me because this soldier is from my hometown of Lawrence, KS, and is a fellow Jayhawk. Amerine's account seems too incredible to be true, but he was indeed awarded the Silver Star for his travails and would go on to lead fighter squadrons and a career in the military after the war. I don't recall going to school with any Amerines, but it sounds like they'd have been some tough sonsabitches:

Scrollable Image

and a couple more art samples from Wittmack:

Thanks to my man McCoy for his edit of tonight's scan, and we'll be back next time with more magazines from wartime. Again, thank you veterans, your sacrifices are not forgotten.

No comments: