Spring break was last week here in Clarksville, Tenn. So my wife, daughter and I hopped in the Camry and went to Washington, D.C. We went first to Durham, N.C., to pick up my father-in-law, Col. (ret.) George Stephens, USAR. George was drafted into the Army in the summer of 1941 for one year. When Pearl Harbor was attacked in December, all service terms were extended, basically, indefinitely. ("Stop loss" is no new concept.) Massive inductions of both draftees and volunteers began immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack. George said that before his original year's service was up, he discovered he was already an "old soldier." We went to DC to take George to the National World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004 (IIRC) and which he had never seen. George, a widower, will turn 89 in June. It was a quick trip - up to Ft. Belvoir, Va., on Wednesday to stay the night, then into DC all day Thursday and back to Durham that night. The Memorial is located at the end of the reflecting pool, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. It is a large memorial, befitting a big war. This is a pic from the memorial's web site.
The north end is dedicated to the Atlantic-area campaigns and the south end to the Pacific area. George served exclusively in the Pacific, continuously overseas for 39 months, taking part in eight combat amphibious assaults and the ensuing campaigns. Though a member of the Medical Service Corps, he personally saw heavy combat but was never wounded. I am reminded of Bill Mauldin's classic cartoon of frontline medical personnel:
Caption: "The reason ya don't git combat pay is 'cause ya don't fight."
George was not a medic, but served in aid stations close to the fighting lines and routinely went into the fighting to evacuate the wounded. He has spoken movingly to me of the men who died of their wounds on the way back to the aid station and of a few who were shot to death by the Japanese as George was carrying them to (presumed) safety. There was one occasion (or only one that he told me of) when his position was strafed by Japanese Zero fighters. He said it so provoked his ire that he jumped up with his Garand rifle and shot a couple of clips back at them. Didn't hit them, of course, and later he said he wondered why he did something so foolish, since he had left the nominal safety of his foxhole to stand up to shoot his rifle.
A passerby agreed to take this photo of the four of us standing under the Pacific campaign memorial tower. George was a staff sergeant when fighting in the Luzon campaign. During the campaign, he was commissioned a second lieutenant by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
As you might imagine, there are a number of World War II vets and their family members at the memorial on any given day. The gentleman below, left, is from Seattle. I regret that I did not write down his name. He was a B-17 pilot in Europe. He told us he had two bombers shot out from under him, one by flak and the other by the German jet fighter, Messerschmitt 262, armed with 30mm cannon. He said that the Messerschmitt completely wrecked his B-17 in only five seconds of shooting. He was able to land the plane at a US air base in Belgium, but so severe was the damage that the ground crew simply bulldozed it off the runway and scavenged it for what undamaged parts they could get. He also landed the flak-hit bomber, but it was unrepairable, too. His son-in-law, who was with him last week, told me that he went on after the war to become a nuclear physicist.
Here is a view looking from the World War II Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial. The waterfall in the foreground is part of the war memorial, it is not connected to the reflecting pool that lies beyond it.
My father-in-law was called to active duty for two years in the Korean War, serving the entire time at the base hospital at Fort Benning, Ga. Here he stands at the Korean War Memorial, a couple of hundred yards to the southeast of the Lincoln Memorial. The Korean War Memorial is neither as large nor as inspiring as the World War II Memorial. I will say, though, that it seems to be visited devotedly by Koreans who come to DC. There were many Koreans there when we were there. Having served in Korea, I recognized the language even though I cannot speak it.
We stopped to see the cherry blossoms along the tidal basin. I snapped this picture of George standing across from the Jefferson Memorial. I am proud, and awed, too, to say that he is one of the Americans who saved the world from fascism and tyranny when everything dear to civilization was threatened with destruction. It was by his efforts and those of his comrades (never to forget those who gave their lives!) that Jefferson's ideals survived. He helped preserve what he there surveyed.
Below is a video I took of George narrating his service record in the Pacific, walking along the campaign pool under the Pacific tower. Of the 20 campaign locations engraved into the stones, George fought or served at 10 of them. The ambient noise at the memorial is very high from all the waterworks, so you'll have to listen closely to hear George's voice.