Today was Veteran’s Day and, even though much has already been said, I’m going to spend another column on veterans.
This one will mainly be about one in particular - my dad.
My dad’s war was WWII. He was a "Seabee." What he did was handle heavy equipment on a number of godforsaken islands in the Pacific. It wasn’t glamorous or particularly dangerous. He mostly spent his war carving out roads and repairing airfields.
Even though he wasn’t a front line grunt, he never said much about the war. I guess that, even in his job, he’d seen a thing or two that he didn’t really want to relive.
During the summer of 1968, though, I was home from college and, one evening, we went out to play some pool and drink a few beers. That night, for whatever reason, he opened up a little.
He told me about a time that he was clearing an area with his bulldozer. The fighting was mostly over but, occasionally, he could hear shooting off in the distance.
Out of nowhere, he said, a group of "raggedy-assed" (are there any other kind?) Marines came running out of the jungle. They were soaked to the skin, dirty and very excited about something.
One of them jumped onto his bulldozer and shouted that they needed him and, more importantly, his bulldozer down at the beach "Right Now!"
Not knowing what he was getting into, he let the rest jump on and headed off in the direction that they were pointing.
When they reached the beach, things were quiet. For sure, there was no fighting going on. What he did see, however, was a heavy cable leading into the surf. The Marines that were riding with him jumped off and began directing him to back his bulldozer up to it.
As soon as he stopped, one of them stripped naked, dove into the surf, and swam out a little way. Then the swimmer took a couple of deep breaths and "all I saw was this skinny, bare butt going straight down into the water."
When the swimmer surfaced, he shouted that everything was ready.
My dad said they then hooked the cable to his bulldozer and had him start pulling.
"I knew I had something heavy attached, but I could feel it moving. Pretty soon, I saw that I was pulling a small landing craft onto the beach."
"As soon as it cleared the water, those guys jumped into it and began hauling soggy cases from it and stacking them on the sand. That’s when I saw why everyone was so excited. Someone had put a bunch of beer onto the craft and it’d been sunk. The Marines had somehow found it and – naturally – placed it high on their priority list."
"They gave me a case or so, thanked me for my help, and indicated I could leave – which is what I did."
"Best tasting beer I ever had."
Later in the war, he was on another island repairing a runway. The sun was directly overhead and (his words) it was hotter than the hinges of hell. His bulldozer was making a lot of noise and he was drowsy from all the heat and racket.
He noticed that there wasn’t a lot of activity around him, but didn’t think anything of it. Shortly thereafter, he saw a Marine waving at him so he waved back and kept on working.
That all stopped, he said, when the Marine who’d been waving ran over in a crouch, jumped up next to him and yelled, "You dumb SOB. They’re shooting at you."
About then my dad said he heard a loud "ping" as a round bounced off of his blade.
"Fastest I’ve ever run," was what he said. "Woke me right up, too."
Those two stories were about the extent of what he told me – except for driving new bulldozers over cliffs at the end of the war because they needed the space on the ships to bring troops rather than equipment home.
My dad played a very small part in that war but, like millions of others, he did it willingly.
Today, it’d be worthwhile to remember all of the men and women who’ve put their lives and livelihoods aside to stand in front of our enemies and say – "Not on my watch; and if you try, you have to come through me."
We owe these men and women a word of thanks.
It’s a simple gesture that they’ve more than earned.