On this Veteran’s Day, I want to share a story about a special veteran with you, my Dad.
My Mother and biological Father divorced when I was five or six years old. As children, we saw our Father infrequently, then not at all. My Mother later re-married Robert J. Wheaton, and he is the special person I know as my Dad.
Dad joined the Marine Corps during World War II when he was sixteen years old. My first realization of World War II was a Purple Heart Medal and this photo of the young U.S Marine that my Mother kept on our fireplace mantle.
As a child, I would ask Dad questions about the war and his scars. He didn’t say much, and when he did, the answers were brief. Dad was a man of few words.
Later on in life, I sent for his military records, and they reported he was a farmhand working on his father’s farm, “operating a tractor to pull hay wagons and help with harvests.”
He went through basic training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and then to Camp Pendleton in California for training on infantry tactics.
Four months after entering the Marines, he sailed for Okinawa, a Japanese island in the Pacific Ocean, just south of Japan.
Dad, like many other veterans who experienced the war, didn’t like to talk about it. Still, I was interested and eventually learned that the Battle of Okinawa was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific during World War II.
A Marine history book about the battle of Okinawa answered some questions. I learned that Dad was one of the 60,000 troops that stormed ashore on the initial invasion. It was on Easter Sunday, 1945.
Okinawa was Japan’s last stand before the Allies invaded their homeland. The Japanese made a heroic effort to hold the island. In Japan, they called the battle the “rain of steel” because of the ferocity of fighting, the intensity, and the number of Allied ships that fought for the island.
It has one of the highest numbers of casualties of any World War II battle. The Japanese lost over 100,000, the U.S. and our Allies suffered more than 50,000 casualties, and over 12,000 were killed in action. Dad was one of the casualties.
He did share a little when I questioned him. He told me the military doctors that cared for his injuries suggested he write about his experience in the war. I believe it was to relieve his anguish.
Many years later, he sent me those writings. And, later he confessed he was the subject in the writings. Through those conversations, his writings, and the research I learned what happened in Okinawa.
Exhausted from the intense fighting two weeks into the invasion, he was asleep in a foxhole on the front line. While asleep, a Japanese infiltrator stabbed him with a knife. The stab wound awoke him in time to save himself.
The battle continued and a grenade fragment lodged in his ankle, and he kept fighting. He later wrote, “The Marines in ‘Easy Company’ considered it dishonorable to walk off the battle line for any reason.” He was then shot through both legs above the knees.
Those marines in Easy Company, the same ones he refused to leave after being wounded three times, carried him off the battlefield.
He went through months of medical care in a Tinian Island hospital and then rehabilitation in the United States. The Marine Corps records show he was 85% disabled when discharged from service.
But you would never know it. Dad worked in physically demanding jobs, with those injuries, for the rest of his life.
This quiet and humble man taught me many valuable lessons by example as he went about his life just trying to do the right thing.
What lessons can you learn from a tough Marine? I learned about true heroism, duty, and honor. I learned he is a Marine, The Few, The Proud.
And I learned about the unconditional love of a real Dad. After what he experienced in Okinawa, his focus remained on the well-being of his family and children.
As I think about him over the years, I realize anyone man can be a Father, but it takes someone special to be a Dad. He taught me unconditional love and the difference between a Father and a Dad. He made me a better person.
Tom Brokaw described them as “The Greatest Generation.” He wrote: “They came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America – men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement, and courage gave us the world we have today.”
Generations later, veteran men and women still live everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement, and courage. They continue to preserve the life we have in America today. They help make us the people we are.
Thank you, veterans, for being a quiet daily inspiration for us. And, thank you for your service.
Dad passed away on November 29, 2002, and he remains my hero.