Tag Archives: freedom

The Price of Freedom

Iwo Jima landing

I know my father did his part to secure the freedom I now enjoy — with the 23rd Marines, 4th Division, and the battles to secure Roi-Namur, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

What I don’t know is what it cost my father. Dad, like many vets, didn’t talk much about his experience. This week I learned a little more when I received a copy of my father’s citation for his efforts on Iwo Jima. It arrived as part of a thick bundle of papers from the National Personnel Archives that I requested a year or so ago… and promptly forgot about.

What Dad had shared came out in fragments. I’d done some research to learn what he couldn’t tell me. But the citation, which explains what Dad did to earn a gold star in lieu of a second bronze star, helped me piece together more of his story. (Excerpts from the citation appear in italics to differentiate them from Dad’s few quotes.)

Having assumed the duties of operations officer in an infantry regiment during the planning phase, Major Campbell, although confronted with many difficulties incident to the absorption of a large number of replacements and the indoctrination of inexperienced staff officers, placed all units in a high state of readiness for combat….

The “incident… of a large number of replacements” understates the reality. By the end of the second day of battle, the “Fighting Fourth” alone had lost more than 2,000 men. By the end of the second week, half the American forces were dead or wounded. The men who were sent in to reconstitute platoons, including “inexperienced staff officers,” died even faster than the men they replaced. But Dad didn’t talk about that.

…Embarking on a control vessel during the initial stages of the landing attack, he supervised the transmittal and execution of numerous orders issued during the ship to shore movement. With only a limited beachhead established and with the beach area practically untenable as a result of heavy and accurate enemy fire, he landed with the command echelon of his unit and quickly obtained contact with all units ashore, thus rendering invaluable assistance to his regimental commander….

My father began to talk about the war when he was in his 80s, but he was the storyteller who couldn’t get much past the “once upon a time.” The story began with D-Day, when he stood in his roiling landing craft with his first view of the beach:

“From up on the deck of the landing craft, the light was growing. We saw this ungodly ghostly tower rising six to seven hundred feet in the air. It was a volcanic spire, the goddamnedest thing I ever saw.”

Although he’d been ordered hold off by the Beach Master, he saw an opening in the boat traffic and ordered his landing craft to go for it.

“The island was shaped like a pork chop – a volcanic mound with steep sides, honeycombed with caves. It overlooked the beaches we landed on — the Japanese had perfect visibility.  Down at the far end was another escarpment looking the other way.”

It was eerily quiet when the Marines began to land. One of the things that intelligence didn’t know was that the beach was composed of volcanic ash. Small landing craft foundered; men sunk in the quagmire that sucked at their boots.

Then the island came to life. Mortars, rockets, machine guns and artillery cut the men on the beach to ribbons. A Saturday Evening Post headline dubbed Iwo Jima “the Red Hot Rock.”

Foxholes collapsed. There was no cover.

Dad said, “We had one fine officer who took a posthumous award for scooping up men without leaders and taking the key point.  They got all shot up.”

…Throughout the following twenty-five days, Major Campbell was required to assume progressively greater responsibility because of many casualties among leaders and staff personnel….

Dad never mentioned that. But it makes sense. More than a quarter of the original men of the Fourth who sailed out of San Diego in January 1944 became casualties (killed, wounded or missing in action). Iwo Jima was the only WWII battle in which overall American casualties exceeded those of the enemy.

…He made frequent visits to forward areas where his demonstration of coolness and courage under fire served as an inspiration to those who observed him…. 

Dad did tell one story that supports this assessment, but he told it as an amusing anecdote: “Some days later, maybe D+4, I went down to Division HQ. My job was to prepare to take over and I needed to know where everyone was, their weaponry, etc.. Enough of the island had been taken by then that you could move around. I had to walk about one mile to the other end of the island.  In the command post, the situation map was surrounded by officers and I couldn’t see anything.  Then, the Japanese started firing high velocity rounds from their position on a cliff.  Division HQ staff bailed out and I took all of the information I needed and walked out.”

When my father told this story, he smiled that wry smile of his — one lip rising higher than the other.

…His unselfish devotion to duty and superb judgment contributed to the success of the attack and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. — Roy S. Geiger, Lt. Gen., USMC

Like many vets of his generation, my father minimized his role. He turned the spotlight on the front lines.

“Iwo Jima as an overall operation was absolutely petrifying. No doubt about that. But I was not a front line trooper although there were some near misses, but the near misses are a little different. They’re come and gone before you think about it. The danger’s over from that immediate thing, or you’re dead, one of the two. Either way it’s not a problem, I guess.

“It went on a long time….I was not down on my belly in the sand taking fire from some unseen joker a hundred yards ahead. I had enormous respect for the kids that did it. I’m not a hero. But I knew some that were. If there were heroes at all they were the line troopers that actually took the brunt of this thing. That has to take enormous guts and will to go day after day after day of this stuff and your friends getting killed around you. Bad. Really bad.”

It was only when my father uttered these last two fragments that I had a sense of what the war cost him. He closed his eyes and paused. His throat tightened when he said, “Really bad.” The memory, decades later, was still too hot to touch.

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Emotional Spanx

Brushing my teeth this morning, Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” was playing in my head.

As I dressed, I reflected on an email I received yesterday from a friend who is undergoing what he says is a new way of living as he comes to terms with being in remission from a serious type of cancer. Reading Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Close to the Bone, he was struck by her argument that having a life threatening disease is a spiritual journey, and its components are  “…finding meaning, creativity, and joy in life.…”  He is especially thinking about creativity.

Then I recalled my reunion yesterday with a former colleague who I hadn’t seen in ten years. After many years in a corporate environment, she left without a specific plan. Her skill as a “connector” led her to one person after another, one opportunity after another, and now she has formed dynamic arrangement with a team of like-minded consultants. “I’ve found my people,” she told me.

Welcome to five minutes in my head.

Why these three vignettes in rapid succession? My mind is “background processing” themes of risk, creativity and trust as I prepare to embark on a Master’s in Fine Arts in creative nonfiction. I’ve written that I’m scared, and I am. But this five minutes of synapses felt like taking a step.

As a person immersed in the return-on-investment world of marketing and strategic planning, most of it plied in the corporate world, I have been accustomed to control. I’ve controlled budgets, tactics and people but perhaps most of all, I’ve controlled me. Impulse control isn’t a bad thing, of course. It’s necessary. We learn from an early age that we can’t throw tantrums to get our way. We learn how to stay out of trouble. We learn to conform to the expected.

I became something of an expert in emotional Spanx.

Deciding to write after years of rationalizing why I couldn’t or shouldn’t is frightening. But it’s also freeing. I’m letting it go.

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I can, therefore I am

Cocktails with Maddie at Clyde Common

Cocktails with Maddie at Clyde Common

Last week, Todd and I looked at each other in surprise when we came to the same realization. We could go to a movie. We could go out for a cocktail. We could watch recorded TV shows. We could eat baked potatoes for dinner, leftovers, or skip dinner altogether and snack on pita chips and hummus with a great bottle of wine.

I’ve been out of town a total of almost three weeks in the 5 1/2 weeks since Dad died on Jan. 12. I will get home today and leave tomorrow for a friend’s 50th birthday bacchanalian.

With Maddie starting a new permanent job next week (with benefits!), I realized we could do something fun. So we went to Portland where I showed her the wonders of Powell’s Books, the Living Room Theater (where we saw Oscar-nominated short animated films), and restaurants like Andina and Clyde Common.

I know I’m free in a way I haven’t been in seven years, but I can’t quite wrap my brain around it yet. I keep waiting for the electronic collar to zap me when I’ve come to the end of my tether. Or worse, the phone to ring with Dad on the other end, saying, “Bets, I need help. Where are you?”

It’s going to take a while to get used to my new reality. Todd, too. He isn’t getting much in the way of meals these days (I can hear my mother’s voice chastising me for that). But maybe I’ll surprise him and even shave my legs for a change. What a concept.

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