Life Aboard Ship: The Pacific Theatre 1944

My father served in the Pacific Theatre aboard a destroyer during WWII. After the war, he became a coach, with the majority of his career spent as Director of Athletics, basketball, tennis, and sometimes swimming coach at Whitman College. Like so many of his generation and the veterans of other wars and conflicts, he spoke little of his time in the service. We laughed that he was called “Gramps,” as he was almost ten years older than many of his “men.” He wrote letters to his mother, his sisters, and my mother (at the time, his fiance), about life aboard ship, at least those things about which he was comfortable speaking. Only much later did we learn about the kamikaze attacks, listening to men caught in crashed plans (he was with the radio crew), seeing Japanese mothers and children jump from cliffs at the end of the war, fearing the Americans victors. His destroyer was one of many surrounding MacArthur’s ship at the ceremony when the Japanese surrended in 1945.

But back to his men: whenever there was ANY possibility of going ashore, even to tiny atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, my father, as officer but also as concerned colleague, encouraged the boys (as he called them) to swim, play basketball or baseball “as there is no space [aboard ship] to play a game.” He lamented his “poor condition,” a man to whom sport was his salvation, whether as a young boy trying to find his way after his father died, a teenager “banished” to a high school far from his friends (and being forced to play the violin) with no time to play on the high school teams because of the long commute, to finding camaraderie at Springfield College, where he was a natural, a tennis and basketball star, and finally, a beloved and revered coach, friend, and mentor.

Dad cherished the men with whom he shared the horrible years of war. Even after the war, they played a large part in who he was…I honor my father, his men, and all the men and women to whom we are so grateful for their service to our country.

This photo is a letter my father sent to his sister, Tartie, in August 1944, celebrating a few hours ashore, asking her to purchase a “few things,” like khaki hats, cloth watch wrist band (as leather doesn’t do well in salty air), and three bars (j.g.) as he was expecting a promotion soon! I read it occasionally, remembering his penmanship, appreciating his concern for others, finding his voice that I miss so much.

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