The sacrifices made by my parents and their contemporaries during World War II

By Don L. Searle Jr.

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Dec. 4 2011 4:00 p.m. MST

A memorial wall within the USS Arizona monument at Pearl Harbor.

Provided By Don l. Searle Jr.

The small card is turning brown with age. The words on it are ordinary, but once they held secret meaning for just two people. They are the code my parents used during World War II so she would know where in the world he was.

If my father used the word "green" in the next-to-last paragraph of his letter home, it meant his ship was in Hawaii. If he wrote "OK," he was in Okinawa. Truck garden would mean Japan.

The card, carried in my mother's wallet decades ago, came to light as I went through her personal papers after her death. I was reminded once more of the sacrifices their generation made for mine.

My father and five of my uncles served in the military during World War II. One was in Pearl Harbor the day it was bombed. One was a bombardier on 27 missions over Europe. One went into Normandy on D-Day, and later survived two weeks isolated behind enemy lines with another soldier. The fact that they were hospitalized afterward may have saved them from death in the Battle of the Bulge, where much of the rest of their company was lost.

My father and his two next younger brothers grew up in rural Spanish Fork. My mother's two brothers came from a tiny Texas town on the Mexican border. Like many of their generation, they found themselves fighting and serving in places across the globe with names they might have heard briefly in some half-remembered geography lesson.

The mothers and wives they left behind sent love and prayers to support them. My father's mother cherished and saved every letter from him after he left home in 1940. Those, too, turned up in my mother's papers.

When my father proposed to her in 1943, he said, "I can't tell you what the future will bring, but if I live through this war, I want to spend the rest of my life with you." They took a leap of faith.

My mother had worked as an aviation instrument mechanic at NAS Corpus Christi (Texas), helping repair the planes that Navy pilots flew. After their marriage, she followed my father to duty stations in the Northwest. He left her there, expecting their first child, when he was sent to Officers Candidate School. After being commissioned in 1944, he served as radio officer on a landing ship tank running supplies and ammunition through war zones in the Pacific.

He and his brothers and brothers-in-law were fortunate enough to live through the war. Afterward, they took up the lives that circumstances brought them. The sailor who survived Pearl Harbor became a sheet metal worker in Oregon, near the home of the woman he had married during the war. The soldier who survived European campaigns made a life as a plumber in California, near the home of the woman he had married. The bombardier made a career in the Air Force, rising to colonel, and then taught at Arizona State University after retirement.

My father went back to being a radio announcer, a career that began in the late 1930s to help support his schooling. But the life he had planned with my mother was cut short in a way no writer would ever have scripted because it would have seemed too contrived. It was in June 1946, the first time since before the war that all of his family had been together. They were a block-and-a-half from home in Provo, headed out for a picnic, when there was a car accident. He was killed instantly, leaving a 22-year-old widow and a toddler son. It was my parents' third wedding anniversary, to the hour. For about half their marriage, he had been away at war.

My mother went back to work at NAS Corpus Christi, helping keep Navy pilots flying up to and through the Korean War. We lived not far from the base, so I often saw planes and air shows and pilots practicing touch-and-go takeoffs and landings. (Vaguely I can remember seeing pilots in World War II propeller planes, wearing old-style leather flying helmets, even as the Navy was switching over to jet fighters.)

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