When I was a little girl, I had an Uncle Gene. He was Mom’s brother. Most of my uncles were Dad’s brother, except for Uncle Gene and Uncle Ken. Uncle Ken lived far away, Uncle Gene lived right next door to Grandma and Grandpa Z with his two kids and Aunt Marion.
Mom said Uncle Gene was full of fun and mischief when they were kids. I only knew Uncle Gene when he was solemn and kinda grumpy. That’s on account of him being in the War. Grandpa wrote about it when he wrote down all his memories back when he was about 95. (Grandpa’s name was Frank and Grandma’s name was Stella.) Here’s what he wrote:
The war still going on and we had Germany in a bad way and ready to give up, but Japan was still giving us a lot of trouble. The army and navy needed many more men and were asking for enlistments and were drafting. We knew that before long Gene would be called, and him still in high school. There were a lot of urging by the teachers and others to enlist. The enlistment was only for the duration of the war. Gene did want to enlist so badly that Stella and I finally let him do it. At this time, Stella was in the Saratoga Hospital and after being discharged, Dr. Granger wanted her to stay at his house until she felt better. [Dr. Granger was Grandma’s brother.]
I decided to visit her, and while there, Gene kept bugging me about him enlisting. Stella and I talked it over and Detroit was the only recruiting office as Flint did not have one. We thought of taking him there and maybe it might be several weeks or more before he would be called and hoping that it would not happen.
So Gene and I went to downtown Detroit where the office was and after finding the place and getting in there was no waiting. He was written up and in no time and no further waiting was told that he would stay there till morning and would have to take the physical. This did kind of surprise Gene and he just didn’t know what to say. He was told that if he passed the physical, he could go home for a couple of days and then go to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Chicago. I myself could hardly believe it to be true and felt very much alone going back to Stella. Then she asked how we made out and I said that I left him there as they wanted him right away, but he would be home tomorrow some time. It was kind of a shock to her but as she said, “There is nothing we can do.”…..
Gene was aboard the Saratoga somewhere in the Pacific. I just can’t say how long he was in, but something was going on that we were not to know. Till one day Dr. Granger let it slip that the Saratoga was hit by Japanese planes. He would say no more. It made us kind of uneasy and not long after that we got a letter from someone in Hawaii. It was from a buddy of Gene’s and it was quite difficult to get the meaning of it. Many words were blanked out, but it was enough to tell us that Gene was okay and we would be hearing from him before long. There was nothing said about the ship nor where Gene was, only it did should like it was the island. This did worry us considerably and we waited what seemed like several weeks and finally we did get a letter from Gene. It was from Seattle Washington and saying that his ship was damaged and they were in for repairs. Shortly after that, we got a letter from Bernard Granger. [I did not know who Bernard Granger is.] He said that Gene was in the navy hospital in Seattle for a check up and that Gene had a leave due him and would be coming home. That more or less did quiet us down and sure enough he did write and said that he was leaving there but not coming home. Instead he was being shipped to a rest camp in Sun Valley, Idaho. He would not say for how long. At least we knew now that he was okay…..
As the train [from Chicago] stopped, Gene was already standing on the step ready to jump off. Was he glad to be back. He looked kind of tired, but otherwise okay. It was a two week leave while the ship was being repaired. He had a lot to tell us and did have a lot of fun with his buddies here. But the time kept slipping away and there were only a few more days and I began to see that Gene hated to go back. He was told that when the ship was repaired it would go back to sea. I never will forget that day when Gene was to leave. I went to his bed room to get him up and he laid there awake and when I told him it was time to go, he had cried and didn’t want to go. He asked me if I could possibly get in touch with the Red Cross and get an extension to his leave. I called the Red Cross and they told me what to do. I told Gene what I was doing, but in the meantime, I told him to get ready…It was a sad day for all of us.
Every time the phone rang I was hoping it was good news, but no word. I was trying hard to make Gene understand that he would not go to sea again because by now the ship was probably on its way. Furthermore, you are in no condition to go and there will be a fresh crew to take your place. I tried so hard to make him see that the war was almost over and I was willing to bet that in maybe a month you will be on your way home. He cheered up a bit and we heard the sound of the train and soon it was at a stand still and time to get in. How he hated to go and stood there in the doorway till he disappeared in the distance. We also stood there looking until the last coach no longer was to be seen.
When I read, Grandpa Z’s words, my chest gets tight and tears fill my eyes. I can’t imagine what it was like for him and Grandma to see their son off and depend only on letters for updates. I will never know what it was like for the night-yet-out-of-high-school Uncle Gene. The Saratoga was in several battles and on one occasion was hit by a torpedo. To read more, click here.
On Memorial Day we remember those who lost their lives during active military duty. Even those that came home physically whole, often lost a part of themselves at war. Some are never the same. Neither are their families.