I met an 88-year-old man named Frank today, Memorial Day, at a department store. He was helping his wife shop for clothing. He wore a cap that said “USS California BB-44” and a matching polo shirt. I walked over and shook his hand and thanked him for his service. While our wives were in the fitting room, he told me some of his story.
Enlisted at age 17 in 1944, Frank was deployed on the California as a gunner after some sailors were killed and injured in a collision with the USS Tennessee. The California was originally commissioned in 1921, and she was at her moorings at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked. She sank.
Unbelievably, they raised her, towed her to Bremerton, Washington, gave her a complete rehab and upgrade, and put her back into service.
I told Frank that my Pop had been part of the Normandy invasion force and fought through the Battle of the Bulge, then he and his brother Bud waited in Paris for orders to ship out for the invasion of Japan (which, mercifully, never came thanks to the atomic bomb).
Frank said, “I’ve got a lot of respect for those men at Normandy.” Later, when I mentioned my great uncle Horace had been a veteran of the Korean War, Frank said he was grateful for what those men did.
He told me that in recent years the Navy built a submarine and named it in honor of the USS California, and Frank got to sit in the front row when they commissioned her. (The original battle boat was scrapped in 1959 and, Frank says, got used in the nuclear bomb tests at Enewetok atoll.)
I did my best to express my deep gratitude what Frank did for us all. He was kind, and humble in response.
Sunday at church, we did our annual Memorial Day service, to which we invite active-duty and veteran military personnel. At the reception afterward, I went around the room and spoke with as many of the older vets as I could. I didn’t meet any WWII vets. The old guys are now the Korea vets.
When my Pop was a boy, he said they still had some Civil War vets who would visit schools and ride in parades. I was awestruck.
Someday, I’ll tell my grandchildren that we still had World War II and Korea vets around when I was young. They will marvel.
[NOTE: Any factual or historical errors in this little piece can be attributed to my own poor memory, not Frank’s.]