My father only had one war story. He had various prewar and postwar ones, but of his time in combat during World War II, only one anecdote survived.
He ran into a fraternity brother from Atlanta, Ga., on Guam. What are the chances! And they were so glad to see each other, and they took a ride in a jeep. They almost got into trouble! Ha Ha!
Perhaps he was not telling me everything.
He had a friend from the Marine Corps, Bobby MacArthur, called Bobby Mac or MacAdoo, for short. They fought in the Pacific together. Bobby Mac showed up. Bobby Mac was loyal. The tone in Dad’s voice when he said MacAdoo expressed it all.
Islamic Jihad killed 242 Marines in a suicide bombing at a barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983. It was the largest terrorist attack on Americans abroad.
A Look Exchanged
I was with my father and Bobby Mac when they heard the news. They exchanged a look.
In that look, I saw grief, strength, brotherhood, and something utterly stoic.
Someone said that military service members are like the ancient Spartans, and the rest of us are like some ancient soft guys who lie on chaise lounges and eat sautéed hummingbird tongues.
But their toughness and our civilian softness are not by choice. It was their fate, and their fate honed an inner strength that was already there.
Only 18 Years Old
Dad was 18 years old when he joined the Corps. He was short. He was a college boy. Speaking of major attacks, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. He had a good reason to sign up.
He went to officer training school, and among his humorous prewar stories was the embarrassment of being given a tearful send off by local young ladies, and then assigned to report to, wait for it: Emory University.
He told me it was hard to pass the physically and mentally grueling course, and he treasured a picture of him and his father, Ed Hook, smiling after he graduated.
What came after that has been recorded by others. Combat in the Pacific was horrific. Casualties nearly used up the Corps, as Robert Leckie described in his book “Helmet for My Pillow.” Yet they defeated the Japanese.
I think we will defeat our enemies again, if it is what the fates allow. I hope they will rehabilitate themselves and become peaceful members of the global community, as Japan did. What happens in between will include nearly indescribable sacrifice and loss.
My father took a profound pride in being a Marine. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of the transfer of command ceremony when he retired, and the upright, dignified, serious men. He taught me how to do the official two-person military-style flag folding into a triangle, and for the rest of my life I will always respect the flag.
I received one of those triangle folded flags in his honor at his funeral, from a Marine in dress uniform. A homeless man was passing by, on the sidewalk above the garden of the downtown church where he was laid to rest. The man stopped, put his bags down, stood straight, and held a salute.
Before he died my father wrote a letter to his grandson, my sister’s son, and told her to give it to him when it was the right time. She gave it to him when he turned 18. He was tall, a college boy, a fraternity boy from Atlanta, Ga.
“I hope you never experience war,” wrote my father.