I can never forget the words I saw on a sign on Camp Pendleton: “When you go home, tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow, we gave our today.” This beautiful Memorial Day, let’s remember those that aren’t here to enjoy it with us, because they gave their future for us.
“Don’t you worry about me, little sis, I’ll be back,” Eddie smiled at his sweet sister and straightened – actually, tilted – his lieutenant’s cap while his mother looked on. Though she was only fourteen, his sister June knew that he was headed back out to war. Even if he did call it “a cushy job,” it was all the same to her – war.
Giving his sister a playful squeeze, Eddie pecked his mother and strode out the door, letting the screen slam behind him. June bit her trembling lip as she noticed her mother jump at the ominous sound.
It was 1945, and America was still fighting the Second World War. With many of his friends, Eddie left college where he had been majoring in engineering to join the Army Air Force. He had already completed 56 missions as a navigator over the hump, and had just a brief time of leave to visit his family before he headed out to the Pacific. This time, instead of being in the hostile China-Burma theatre, he was navigating a plane to rescue downed pilots. Yes, his navigator’s job on the PBY was a cushy job, compared to flying the Burma-India hump.
After a few weeks, June came back from the mailbox smiling. “Mom! It’s a letter from Eddie!” she let the screen door bang as she entered the kitchen where her mother was preparing supper. Soon the two were seated at the small kitchen table, reading. “Right now, I’m on a small island called Iwo Jima. It didn’t take us long to set up camp. After all, all there is here is the airstrip and fine black sand! Our tents are on the top of one of the mountains overlooking the airstrip.” Again, he reassured his mother, “don’t worry about me; I’ve got an easy job now.”
When Eddie and his crew reported for duty the 13th of August, they received word that a pilot had gone down in the Sea of Japan. Within minutes, their unarmed PBY and their two escort P-51s were in the air, headed for the coordinates they had been given.
What happened next has been the subject of conjecture for the past fifty-five years. It is a known fact that the PBY found no pilot or wreckage in the area they were told to go to; the escort planes must have gone ahead in search of him, thinking perhaps they had been given incorrect information. Regardless of what happened, by the time they got back to the PBY, it was down, sinking quickly, and surrounded by burning fuel.
Though the war was to end in two days, Eddie was never coming home.
Word reached his home not long after the war was over. June sobbed uncontrollably at the lonely kitchen table, while she heard her very reserved and quiet father down in the basement banging and wailing. The wails, sobs, and cries coming from the basement pierced her soul. She would never be the same again, and neither would her parents.
June, my mother, told me this story many times, but never without a tear in her eye.
Eddie is the uncle I never knew.
We remember with reverence and gratitude those who have given up their tomorrows so that we could have our today.
“Thank you” seems so little, but we do earnestly and sincerely thank…you.