I never saw my dad in his U.S. Navy uniform, just his picture.
He showed me and my brothers his Navy blues, but we never saw him put them on. In fact, we wondered how he had ever climbed into them. Maybe they had shrunk over the years. They looked hardly big enough for a 14-year-old. I think my younger brother wore one outfit on Halloween when he was still in grade school.
The only exceptions were Dad’s wool watch caps. They fit us boys perfectly a dozen years after the war.
The War. Dad didn’t talk about it often, mostly on those few occasions he pulled out his small, gray footlocker. I don’t recall much he had in it, except a garish certificate for crossing the Tropic of Capricorn and a giant fishing spoon with which he’d hoped to catch salmon in Puget Sound.
He talked about his time in the South Pacific, about hitchhiking home from San Diego, but he never talked about The War.
I think he talked with his hunting buddies some, but not with his boys. He told us more about being an “Aggie” at SMS after the war, and proudly showed us his green club sweater.
Dad joined the U.S. Navy in June 1944, shortly after graduating from Pleasant Hope High School. His writings at the time clearly exhibited his patriotic zeal for helping save his beloved Ozarks from the “Yellow Peril.” But once home from the sea, he never wanted to see it again.
Like most World War II veterans, once back in the States he packed away his uniform, dog tags and papers, and resumed life where he left it in June 1944.
Soldiers, sailors and airmen alike, the veterans of WWII knew exactly what they were fighting for — the opportunity to return to the lives they’d left behind.
Dad never joined a veterans’ organization after the war, never marched in a parade or rode on a float. Many veterans do those sorts of things, and it’s well they do to remind others of the sacrifices made for our freedoms. But many veterans don’t. They just go on with their lives without fanfare or celebration and that’s OK, too. Don’t be misled by any veteran’s humble demeanor, though. Fail to remove your cap when the national anthem is played, and you may find yourself looking for it later in the stands.
I come from a family of veterans — my dad, several uncles and cousins, brothers-in-law, both late fathers-in-law and hosts of others throughout history, on opposing sides during the American Revolution and the Civil War. Only a handful were career soldiers. Most were citizen soldiers, like the famous Minutemen — farmers, tradesmen, scholars and such who simply answered their country’s call, then went back home to build the societies they had fought to preserve.
Except in vintage photographs, I’ve not seen most of my kin in their uniforms; neither, have they seen me in mine. But in spirit we humbly wear them every day.
We are U.S. Armed Forces veterans.
No fanfare needed.
Hamilton is a freelance writer and former editor of the Buffalo Reflex. Contact him at email@example.com.