Recently, I've been honored to interview a couple of dozen localveterans of World War II and some "Rosie the Riveter" women who filled inthe workplace blanks left after the military men and women went to war.
The Cambria vets I interviewed are to be honored marshals of theannual Pinedorado parade that starts at Bridge and Main streets at 9:30 a.m.Saturday, Sept. 4.
Richard Tanner, my 84-year-old husband of 32 years and a World War IImember of the Merchant Marine, will be one of them.
He's quite nonplussed about all this attention. "I'm just an 'ancientmariner,'" he said with a grin.
Most of the vets were a bit embarrassed about sharing their warexperiences, but when they did, some had amazing tales to tell.
One man spoke of a wounded buddy who died in his arms during a Germanattack. Another Cambria veteran was a prisoner of war in Singapore. A thirddescribed being trapped when a kamikaze plane hit his ship and ended upresting on the hatch that was his gateway to safety.
Another veteran told of being at the ship's fantail when the screwsstopped turning and the back of the vessel abruptly came up out of thewater. The ship held the pose for a few seconds, shivered, then slammed backdown onto the water - the captain's successful maneuver to push a nearbymine away from his ship and crew.
A third vet described when his ship hit a mine - to survive, he had toswim through an engine room filled nearly to the ceiling with seawater. Many vets spoke poignantly about extraordinary bonds shared withfellow military members. One man said the very toughest part of wartimemilitary service is "when you lose good friends and then wonder, 'why themand not me?'"
A few men related how after enlisting and being disqualified for somemedical reason, they tried again and again with other military branchesuntil they were accepted.
Our family knows that story by heart.
In 1944, Richard's vision measured 20/225 and 20/425. The 18-year-oldfrom Utah tried to enlist, but the Army rated him 4F/limited service. He wasbitterly disappointed; he wanted to serve. But the only branch that wouldaccept restricted-vision enlistees was the Maritime Service (MerchantMarine).
He became a radio officer, serving mostly in the South Pacific,including during the invasion of Okinawa. His ships, too, were threatened bymines, torpedoes, submarines, typhoons and huge waves.
"At 19, I was one of the 'old men' on board. Other than the chief andthe officers, most of us were from 16 to 18 years old," Richard recalled."Many had never before been out of the states they were born in, and somehad never seen the ocean."
But wartime service affects far more than the military membersthemselves, even decades later.
Some of our family members struggled recently to describe what itmeans to them to love a World War II vet.
Eldest son Richard said, "It's more than pride about what he did. Ihave such deep respect and admiration for his sense of duty andresponsibility. He did it the way it's supposed to be done, doing what'snecessary because you're supposed to do it."
Our 30-year-old granddaughter, Kelsey Brown (an intensive-care cardiac nurse), said, "Thinking about someone you know and love who was part of the harsh realities of war is so different from studying the war in school, or watching 'Saving Private Ryan.' Knowing about his service makes the war seem so much more real. I'm definitely proud of him ... but his service is also not something you'd want to think about too much, of him having to go through that ... especially somebody as fun-loving as Grandpa."
Husband Richard knows we're all so proud of him and his fellow parademarshals, but these tributes make him squirm a little. "We're justrepresentatives of all those who didn't make it home again," he said softly,sadly.
We love you, honey, and we do respect so much what you did. We thankyou, the other parade marshals and your fellow servicemen and women who wereor are defending us, our freedom and our country.
This Pinedorado's for you.