Pearl Harbor Memories
By Michael Nelson
The day after Pearl Harbor, my father, like thousands of others, tried to enlist in the Marine Corp. He signed the papers and stood up to shake hands with the recruiter and the officer noticed he had a digit missing on his little finger. It was from a drill press accident...and it prevented him from becoming a Marine. He walked across the street and joined the Navy. They didn't seem to care that he had only 9.5 fingers. He told me that instead of landing on Guadalcanal he was performing anti-submarine patrol around the island...and the little finger accident probably saved his life.
He was a sonarman on a destroyer in the South Pacific during the war. Whenever I attempted to talk to him about it he always shrugged it off. About all that he would talk about was the fact that his ship was the first to fire on the Japanese mainland and they were part of the occupation force after the war.
It wasn't until I was living in Palm Springs to help him with his end of life issues that he opened up. He asked me if I remember when I left for Vietnam. I said "sure I do...you shook my hand and said have a good tour." He asked if I noticed he had tears in his eyes...and I said sure.
He said that was the worse day of his life. He was convinced that it was the last time he was going to see me. And then he started crying...and then I started crying...and then we talked about war. I assumed it was because he thought I could now understand and comprehend what war was about.
So we talked about the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, the Marianas, Saigon, Dong Ha and Danang. We talked for hours...and we shared good and bad experiences. We both agreed that war was an ugly concept and we need to change our thinking. And we both agreed that we probably won't.
I asked him if he was ever afraid of dying. He said "I was then...but not now."
Several weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking I heard the phone ringing...but it wasn't. It was the night he died. I found him in the morning with his phone on his chest. He was 93...and he had a great tour.
Michael Nelson was a chaplain's assistant with the 212th Combat Aviation Battalion stationed at Dong Ha and Marble Mountain in 1971.