Today’s blog is a little late today because I went to the cemetery to pay respects to my father, who served in the U.S. Army, and my maternal grandfather, who was an instructor at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y.
My mother, my older brother and I went yesterday. By the time we got to the cemetery, the wind was blowing up a gale. Brother B wanted to actually wash the markers. He handed me a rake to rake the leaves away. I thought it a wasted effort. The way the wind was blowing, the two graves would be covered over again. But I raked away, all the same.
By the time we left, Grandpa’s had blown away, but Dad’s flag held fast.
Mom was very upset that the weather had turned bad. The morning was crisp, cool, and sunny when she proposed the short trip. I warned her that showers were coming. Brother B has a brand new luxury cross-over that shows the weather. Very cool.
Needless to say, the cemetery was windy and cold. She got out of the car to briefly look at the two markers, then got back in the car where it was warm. Brother and I performed the grave-keeping task.
It’s a good thing Mom never joined the Army. She’s as tough as any drill sergeant who ever bellowed at a raw recruit. But she’s also a mother; mothers and danger are natural enemies, even if it’s only standing in a strong wind. She honked on the horn repeatedly for us to come back and go home.
But our task was done. Dad trekked through all sorts of weather, from his training in Louisiana to winters in Europe, as did many other veterans of World War II. They couldn’t go home just because their mothers wanted them to.
“Yeah, Mom,” Brother B muttered, as she honked the horn again. “Lean on the horn again. She asked me to come here to do job and I’m not going home until it’s done.”
My brothers would have made good soldiers. Dad would have been proud. For my part, I’ve been through many blustery, rainy, windy, cold parades with my community band. You do what you have to do. They did.
Grandpa didn’t serve in the military. He missed the draft for World War I by a couple of days and was teaching at the Merchant Marine Academy during World War II. The Merchant Marines are the unsung heroes of World War II. Many servicemen complained bitterly that they shouldn’t be given any notice at all. They felt the seamen were paid for their service and that their country owed them nothing.
Over 500 merchant ships were sunk in the North Atlantic alone, bringing weapons, fuel, food, and other items to England, isolated and alone in the war except for America. A freighter loaded with iron ore could sink in five minutes; her crew didn’t stand a chance in those tempestuous waters.
They were also fair game for the notorious Nazi wolf-packs. By the laws of the Geneva Convention, they could only be minimally armed. They stood no chance against torpedoes. Great caravans of U.S. Navy escorts did their best to protect them. Grandpa said the freighters would have had a better chance alone, at top speed. Convoys made a larger target.
Today is Veterans’ Day. When you remember the veterans (the survivors, as opposed to Memorial Day, which is when we honor the fallen) of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, give a thought also to the merchant marines who also gave their lives in support of the troops and the civilians held hostage to Hitler’s ambitions.
When I went back today, I was right, incidentally; the grave markers were covered with leaves again. I swept them away and planted a flag for Grandpa, who taught his midshipmen how to survive at sea, far from port, when an engine failed or a key piece of machinery was damaged. His former students reported years ago that many came back from the war because of the training he gave them.
He was the terror of the college’s administration. But he was a hero to his students, sailing off to war with only six months training to sustain them. No guns; only wrenches, screw drivers, and Grandpa’s lessons in mechanics and radar operation.