At my house growing up all of us kids knew Dad had been a Marine in WWII and his plane was shot down over the Philippines. We saw the scars on his arm from the flaming fuel of the plane he and his fellow men crashed in. He could never talk about it. Too much pain in those memories. They were too hard, too dark, too deep.
The scars we could not see were far worse than those we could see and had left his heart more guarded, less carefree and truly hurt by others...not just injured by the crash. His story was never told to us until I was in high school when the Oregonian printed the report on the front page that the downed plane, his plane, was found in the jungles on the island of Mindanao.
As we sat around the dinner table that day we were made aware of the article and I remember my mother saying to my father that it was time to tell us the story of what happened. I will never forget that day. I will never forget the quiet tenor of my father's voice as he shared his account with my younger brother and me. Of how his boots were blown off and he was forced to walk barefoot. Of how he had to go back in and save a man he didn't even like. That was my dad...doing what is right...and he never received credit for it which had left a bitterness within him that I don't think he ever let go of.
I remember his sharing how they only had some chewing gum and a Hershey bar between them and that they were stranded in the jungle with no idea how long it would be before they were found, if they were found. He recounted how they took the chance of entering a village hoping for help to survive, not knowing if the residents would count them as friends or enemies. They were fortunate and they found friends among these Philippine peoples.
He shared about the odd food they were given, eggs with chicks inside which they ate gratefully even though they seemed gross to them. And I remember his face as he remembered the kindness of these people. They had left an indelible mark upon him. I do not remember his recounting his rescue. Did he tell us how that happened? Memories are funny things...the morph and twist and sometimes hide.
One thing I do remember is that my father loved the Philippines enough he always wanted to go back and live there when he retired. Last year I saw some photos a friend had taken of Mindanao...it is so beautiful there. But I think the real reason my father always wanted to back was because of the kindness of strangers in that strange and beautiful place. My heart is in a debt of gratitude to them and their kindness towards this band of brothers for without their help these men would have most likely perished and the story on that front page been far different that day.
Thank you Daddy for your sacrifice of service. I love you and miss you so very much. I honor you and your brothers in arms today, this Veteran's Day. You are my hero.