Sunday, November 21, 2010

November in HG's World

November sea

November holds a special significance for HG's World for several reasons both personal and historical. First, it was on the Ides of November 2007, that I launched myself into the galaxy of the blogosphere by founding HG's World. My first real post was a Tribute to My Dad which briefly traced his service in the Pacific during the war. Events have a strange way of collecting like iron filings to a magnet. For my family, November seems to be that magnet.

USS Zeilin AP-3

USS Atlanta, air attack, 11, November 1942

Map of air attack 11, November 1942

During the war, November hosted several life altering events for my father. It was on November 11, 1942 that his ship the USS Zeilin AP-3 was attacked and after shooting down 3 of  the attackers was severely damaged by a bomb that glanced off the ship and exploded alongside damaging the plates and causing the ship to take on tons of water. The crew was able to stem the damage and save the ship and make their way back to the West coast for repairs.

2/2 Marines getting ready aboard USS Zeilin 19, November 1942

Dawn on 20, November 1943, found the Zeilin anchored off the island of Betio at Tarawa Atoll, their charges, the 2nd battalion of the 2nd Marines were preparing to be carried over the reef and onto the sands that soon would be stained with the essence of young men who would never see the dawn of another day. My father part of Zeilin's Second Division, began to load the marines into their boats as the ship's loudspeaker played the "Marines Hymn" and the Zeilin's crew cheered them and helped the men whom they had come to know, down the cargo nets into the waiting craft. It did not take long for the mood to change. As the first craft began to return for the next wave, they began to appear with dozens of wounded and dying marines. The men of the "Mighty Zee" set to work to try and help those they could and tenderly set aside those beyond help. The day ground on, and the sights and tasks that the men of the Zeilin preformed led to my father to bury those feelings deep within his soul, only to speak of them after my brother Vince returned home on emergency leave shortly before our father passed. Dad, over a bottle of Jack Danials, finally spoke of the war; secure to tell, now that his son wore the Cracker Jack uniform of his own youth.

The long pier at Red Beach, Betio Island, November 1943

The battle raged on shore and the crew of the Zeilin was in constant motion moving to and from the beach, at one point, two landing boats carried a team from the Scout Sniper Platoon, led by Lt. William D Hawkins MOH, to clear the pier in what was described as near-suicidal audacity.  After the first day, of the 1500 marine killed and wounded, the Zeilin's 2/2 Marines suffered the worst, losing sixty percent of  their number on the assault on Betio's Red Beach.

Burial at sea 21, November 1943

The following days were filled with burial details as illustrated above, and the mood of the crew was lower than bilge water. the trip back to Hawaii was silent and reflected the pain that each men felt in the loss of so many of those they had recently carried. Two months later, the Zeilin was off another beach at Kwajalein. The landing used the bloody lessons learned at Tarawa to reduce casualties and took the island with a fraction of the losses taken at Tarawa.

The summer of 1944 saw my father back stateside for a recuperation leave. He was assigned to the new Essex Class carrier USS Bon Homme Richard CV-31 as a plank owner, and saw the ship commissioned on 26, November 1944.  The war ended before the next November, but the following November 1946, saw my father welcome his first born son into this world.

November, 1951 brought another day or reckoning for our family. It was a cool mid-November day that I last saw my dad. I remember that moment to this second, sitting at his feet playing with the model airplane he had brought my brother and I, His dress, a fringed leather jacket, white shirt and Levi's was in the mold of Hank Williams the pop icon of the day. My dad soon left, and I watched as he walked down Palmyra Street never to return. Time passed, but the loss persisted.

USS General John Pope

Fifteen years passed, and mid November 1966, saw that first born son sailing out of the Golden Gate aboard the USS General John C Pope AP-110 on his way to Vietnam and as noted his quest to understand our world.

Fast forward another 36 years and in the days post 9/11, I began a search to find my father which ended in discovering in November 2002, that he had died in 1985 and that I had three long lost brothers, who joined me and my own younger brother, as products of the unsettled life our father lived after never reconciling the experiences of the war. The loss of my father, is tempered with knowing how faithful he was to do his duty as millions of young men of his generation did.

As I recount the month of November and the events that have been occurred within its middle weeks, I find myself reflecting on why, but when I count up the pluses they far outweigh the minuses, to make this month, one of thanksgiving and reflection that go far beyond the traditional holiday for my family.

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