(This post was first published more than three years ago. I think Memorial Day weekend is an excellent time to revisit these two remarkable men, my dad and my father-in-law.)
Two Veterans of WWII
My dad was a gentle man, quiet, kind, and hard working. He didn’t get into fights, beat his wife or abuse his children. So it’s hard to imagine him taking part in the violence of World War II.
My father-in-law was a classical Confucian gentleman. Like my dad, his physical strength was masked by his slender build. And like my dad, he fought in that great worldwide war. (The Japanese invasion of China, which is generally considered to be part of the Second World War, is also known as the Second Sino Japanese War.)
Neither man talked much about their wartime experiences. My dad almost never discussed the landing at Salerno and the bloody battle for Monte Cassino in my presence. And though my father-in-law spent seven years fighting the Japanese, I never heard him mention it.
So I have no way of knowing how it felt for them to shoot a rifle at an enemy soldier or how the war changed them. All I have to go on is the way they behaved later.
My dad’s quiet heroism:
It was a warm day in summer. I was eight years old, my sister four. I’d just finished my swimming lesson and was paddling around inside the dock at Bonney Lake when suddenly I heard a commotion on the other side of the dock. I followed other curious swimmers to the ladder, and as I waited my turn to climb out of the water, I could hear people shouting from the dock above me.
“Hey! Hey! What’s going on?”
“Over there,” some kid yelled. “Can’t you see? That girl can’t swim.”
“Looks to me like two people.”
“Damn right! That woman tried to rescue the girl, and now she’s drowning too. The girl panicked; climbed on top of her.”
“No. It’s three people. Oh, my god! I can’t believe it. They’re grabbing the new person and pushing her under.”
“Doesn’t this place have a lifeguard?”
No one seemed to notice my dad diving from the far end of the dock, but I caught a glimpse of his tanned arms and shockingly white back and legs as his body sliced through the water. Fortunately the drowning women didn’t see him coming. He approached them from behind and below. Then he picked them off one at a time and deposited them on the dock.
When they were all safe, my dad simply walked up the grassy hill to the blanket my mom had spread under a large willow tree. He dried his shoulders and legs, sat down beside her and asked for a cold beer.
My father-in-law saves an old man.
My father-in-law was a gentle man with a presence that’s hard to describe. So let me tell you this story that my late husband, Eugene, told me.
One evening when Eugene was about sixteen years old, he and his father and his eight-year-old brother were walking back to their house in Yokohama when they came upon a noisy crowd of more than twenty Japanese men standing around an old man, who was also Japanese. The men were shouting and waving their fists, threatening the old man who lay curled up and cowering on the ground, shielding his face from their kicks.
My father-in-law instructed his younger son to run home. Eugene, who had a black belt in judo by then, was told he could remain. “But stay back unless I call for you,” my father-in-law told him. Then, without a word, he strode into the center of the crowd and held his hand out to the old man.
“Come with me, Old Grandfather,” he said. “I’ll take you home.”
Stunned, the mob opened a pathway for them, and my father-in-law and the old man simply walked away.
I don’t doubt that these two men did what they had to do during World War II. But if I had to guess, I’d say that their natural inclination was more suited to saving lives than taking them.