**I started this the other day when it was fresh on my mind, but I made it about 3 lines in before I got too tired to continue. So I shall begin anew. Today (or Feb 19) marks the 72nd anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Iwo Jima during WWII in 1945. My Grandfather was a marine that stormed the beaches that day.**
Sometimes as parents, we will say that “our lives as parents are ‘hard.’ ” And we are right. As parents of Ausome kids, our definition of “hard” is completely redefined.
I suppose the definition of “hard” depends on our personal experiences.
My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and raised 7 kids in a 3 bedroom house. I think THAT would be hard.
But that wouldn’t be telling the whole story.
My Grandpa met my Grandma while he was in the military. She was dared to approach him by her friends at a USO dance by her friends while he was in training. They started dating. Then he went off to war…
So a little bit about my Grandpa. He was what you would call a bit of a jokester. At the dinner table, if you asked him to “pass the peas,” he would grab a handful of peas from the dish and plop em right on your plate.
“What?” he’d say. “You didn’t ask for the dish!”
He used to take all the grandkids camping. He bought a big-old Winnebago and packed us all up and drove us out to Deception Pass, a beautiful camp ground in Washington. He was always jovial. Quick with tickles, teases, and jokes.
But that was just how I remember him…
My Grandfather served in the Marines when he was 18 years old. Just a teenager. He had his whole life set out before him but the world went and got itself in a big damn mess. So he went off to fight.
When I was 18, I was worried about getting into college, getting a job, and becoming a professional baseball player (not joking).
When he was 18, he packed a .30 cal machine gun onto the black sands of Iwo Jima into the teeth of intense enemy resistance of 22,000 Japanese fighters.
The brutal hell and carnage must have been worse than I can even begin to imagine. I found the official documentation of the battle of Iwo Jima. My grandfather was part of the 5th Marine Division. (27th regiment, 2nd Battalion, Fox Company) which had the objective of landing on the beach to the southeast of Mt. Suribachi and securing the airfields to the north.
Prior to the operation, the entire island was covered in constant shelling by battleships and bombers for months before the marines set foot on the island (sixty-eight hundred tons of bombs, twenty-two thousand shells).
The entire operation was estimated to take less than a week.
It lasted 36 days.
The Japanese had been well-prepared for the attack well in advance and had dug an intricate series of caves, tunnels, and pill boxes which were largely unaffected by the bombardment.
The 27th Marines fought tenaciously. They went basically 25 straight days of intense combat without any real sleep. TWENTY-FIVE DAYS.
I’ve done a couple stretches here and there pulling all-nighters or (one time) going 2 nights in a row (around 50 hours), but I can’t even imagine going more. Even as a parent! And each day having to literally fight for your life?
Oftentimes the sandy terrain would not allow the passage of tanks or heavy artillery so the fighting was often close-combat and hand-to-hand.
Who pitched batting practice to me at 5 years old… Grandpa, who took me camping and taught me all about the different trees and leaves in the area…My Grandpa…Who would rather pay hundreds of dollars to have surgery performed on a goose rather than have it put down… My Grandpa. With an M-1 rifle and fixed bayonet in life-or-death mortal combat with a human adversary that would rather die than surrender or be captured.
In the end, Grandpa came out alive, though not unscathed. And that in itself was a victory.
He was badly wounded by shrapnel from a Japanese grenade.
I owe my life to the Navy Corpsman who saved his life.
Both sides suffered heavy casualties. Iwo Jima was the only Marine battle where the American casualties, 26,000, exceeded the Japanese — most of the 22,000 defending the island.
In the 5th division, “The average battalion which landed with 36 officers and 885 enlisted, now had about 16 officers and 300 enlisted from the original battalion.”
By the time he was discharged, Grandpa would see action in Saipan, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima.
He was honorably discharged after Japan surrendered in 1945.
Upon returning, he married my Grandma and they had their first child, a boy in 1948. However, the happiness was not to last. A mysterious illness took their firstborn only 5 months after he was born. A parent’s worst nightmare.
I don’t know how he made it through that without going through intense depression or developing a drinking problem. Losing friends to war. Losing your firstborn as a baby. It’s … a lot to bear. I can’t imagine that feeling (perhaps I just don’t WANT to imagine it). The grief he must have felt.
THAT is hard.
After that, my Grandparents decided to have as many more kids as they could. They would end up with 7 more.
In 1950, my Grandparents had their first of 7 after losing their firstborn. Incidentally, later that year, the Korean war broke out and the 5th Marine division was sent again to fight in another part of the world.
My Grandpa’s friends convinced him to reenlist. With a wife at home. Having lost a baby just the year before…and a new baby at home. He was going to fight overseas. Again. Such was the band of brotherhood my grandfather had with his buddies.
But when they got to the recruiting center, my Grandpa realized he had forgotten his wallet. So he went back home to get it. He didn’t go back. He said that when he got home, he decided he just didn’t want to go back to war (my belief is that Grandma may have given him a bit of an earful about it as well).
But I’m so glad she did.
Of all the friends that went to enlist with my Grandpa… none came back alive. None.
My dad was born the following year.
I don’t know Grandpa’s war experience except for his medals, and he never talked about it. I don’t blame him.
If I put myself in his shoes, I wouldn’t want to talk about it either. All the death around him. His friends. Dead. People he killed. The maimed, wounded, bodies… missing limbs… Dead. It’s a whole lot of survivor guilt, killing guilt, savage, war-torn, primal raging, screaming aggression, at the horrors he witnessed and was a part of. Dreams. Nightmares. Night terrors. Sleep disorders. All of that. Everything that comes with being hailed as a “war hero.”
I know he suffered from PTSD, and had trouble sleeping later in life.
How did he compartmentalize it?
I can’t even comprehend.
How was he able to be a Husband and Father after all that? Or “Grandpa” for me after going through all that? I don’t know how he compartmentalized that part of his life, but he did it VERY WELL. I’m sure there is a lot of stuff he never told anyone because much of what we know now, we found out after he passed on… (from friends that showed up at his memorial and different discovered documents)
My dad had to fill me in on the details he knew when I grew up, because I never knew about THAT side of him. He was always the fun-loving, outgoing, prankster that always teased me and tickled me. And I think that’s how he wanted me to see him. How he wanted to be remembered. Not as a “war hero,” but as a fun-loving, goofy husband, parent, and grandparent.
He passed away in 2004 at 80 years old. I was 23.
But I never knew how hard his life actually was.
Life as a parent with a child with autism can be a challenge. It can be stressful. It can be sleep-deprived. It can be so so SO very frustrating.
But, knowing what he went through and having STILL raised 7 kids successfully, I won’t ever say it is hard.
A special thank you to all the men and women who fight for our freedom and a special thanks to the survivors and families of those who survived Iwo Jima.