My mom was a nurse in the Navy WAVES when she met my dad. She said she wasn’t sure why she gave him the time of day, the first time they met, but after that, she was hooked. They were both stationed in Hawaii, and their romance was a bit of a whirlwind. They were married in the Navy Chapel, and proceeded to fall deeper in love, for the rest of their lives.
She got out of the Navy at the end of her enlistment, but my dad continued on with his chosen career. This took him to places like Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Saipan and Corregidor. As a Navy Hospital Corpsman, usually assigned to various Marine Divisions, he was assured of never sitting out a battle. On one of the rare occasions that he was attached to a Navy shore station, the Japanese chose that station on which to launch a sneak attack.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, my father returned to the Marines, and accompanied them to nearly every major battle in the Pacific theater. When the war was finally over, the Marines took him to Tokyo with them.
Throughout all this, my mother sat at home, with my sister, dreading the day that a Western Union telegram might be delivered, to announce my father as dead, missing or wounded.
Finally, the war ended, and she felt as though they had survived the worst that life could throw at them. They finally had peace!
But it was short lived, as the U.S. shortly began its involvement in the Korean War, and once again, my dad was attached to a Marine outfit, and participated in the roughest landing of that conflict. His letters came sporadically, as they were often so far forward, that they could neither send nor receive mail for days, sometimes even weeks. Each time the postman came, my mother met him at the door, often to end up crying when nothing arrived to let her know that he was safe.
When the Navy abandoned the Marines to march their way out of Korea, down the Chosin Valley, my father was with them. It was a shooting gallery, with tens of thousands of enemy lining both sides, firing down on the frozen Marines below, for the entire length of the march. More news hit the airways during the Korean War, than during World War II, so my mom was painfully aware of the odds of his survival. She continued to meet the postman at the door, even though she knew she would be receiving nothing from him. She, like thousands of other military wives, was cursed with an endless wait, because even news of the dead or wounded was delayed; only long distance reports were forthcoming, citing the tremendous pounding of the Marines at Chosin.
I was only an infant at this point, so I knew nothing of the wounded Marines my father was treating. I wasn’t aware that he, like everyone else, was starving and frostbitten. I didn’t even know that my mother was crying herself to sleep nearly every night, afraid that her husband, with whom she had enjoyed so little time, might never come home to her.
I know, though, that my mother gave my sister and I all the love and care that anyone could hope for.
And I know that when my father got back, she once again thought, ‘Peace, at last!’
Peace, perhaps, but not necessarily together. My father’s line of work had made Corpsmen special targets in Korea, drawing a bonus for any Chinese soldier that could kill one. Consequently, when peace once again reigned, there was a severe shortage. This meant that nearly every Corpsman was denied the opportunity to stay ashore with his family. Instead, most were attached to ships that sailed almost immediately, and stayed gone for nine months to a year at a time.
Once again, my mother found herself raising two children alone. Only now, they were older, and they needed the influence of a father in their lives.
With the two hats to wear, my mom must have often found herself at odds with herself. She had to be both mother and father, occasionally both good cop and bad cop. She had to satisfactorily fulfill more functions than is reasonable for one person. And she had to be upbeat and cheerful, while doing it.
Amazingly enough, that’s exactly what she did!
I can remember periodically missing my father’s presence…wishing he could come to my ballgame, or just be there at a school play. But I don’t remember ever feeling as though I was lacking anything, because of his absence. We wrote each other letters, I sent him drawings and school pictures, and he would write me about the things he did aboard ship, or in some distant port. And meanwhile, my mom was at my ballgames. My mom made it to all my school plays. She did the same, of course, for all my sister’s activities. And in her spare time, she did all the other things that mothers do, to care for the house, the kids, the pets, the bills, the church bake sales, the Brownie Dens and the Cub Scout packs, etc., etc., etc.
And she did it all with a smile.
My mother didn’t do anything that thousands of other mothers didn’t do, in those same circumstances. In fact, she was luckier than many, since her husband did come home. But that doesn’t make it any less remarkable.
When my father finally retired from the Navy, she must have thought that she was finally going to get to keep him for a while.
Then, his new job, with the federal government, sent him to New York City for two years. Meanwhile, the three of us went to Michigan to stay with my grandparents. There were still letters, of course, and even an occasional phone call, but they weren’t enough, for a couple that had been married for nearly fifteen years, and had been together for less than two of them.
After a year, it was decided that we would move to New York, so that we could all be together. My father rented a brownstone walk-up in Queens, and we tried to resume a normal life.
When that second year in New York was behind us, my father was transferred to El Paso, TX, and we all drove out together. My mother and father were able to finish their days, never being apart again.
That was the kind of peace they had been looking for.