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07 December 2007 @ 09:20 pm
My father's memories of WW2 service.  
Those of you who read Penny Arcade would have already seen where Gabe posted an interview with his grandfather, a Navy enlisted man who served during WWII. He posted the interview just in time for the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack that brought the US into the war in full.

One of the things I remember about being in elementary school was how, anytime we were studying the Second World War, my teachers would find out my father had served and would ask if he would come discuss it with the class. I know I always had a leg up on my history studies, especially regarding that war, having him and my uncles to consult and hear about their experiences rather than just reading about it from dry history textbooks.

I've always been very proud to be able to tell people that my father was a volunteer in that war effort. With my step-daughters having kids who will be school age before much longer, I thought it would help them understand history better if they could hear a little about what went on from a member of their own family. In that vein, I borrowed Gabe’s questionnaire, edited some of the questions for relevance, and asked my father to answer them. Copied below are his answers, transcribed by my mother, with Wikipedia hyperlinks added where possible. I’ve commented in parenthesis on a couple of answers.

1. Your full name is?

A. Harold Edwin Marlowe.

2. Did you have a nickname?

A. Shorty. (This is in fact what almost everyone in my family calls him.)

3. Where did you grow up and how old were you when you enlisted?

A. Montverde, FL, age 16.

4. Why did you decide to enlist and what branch of the service did you join?

A. I felt it patriotic and was the thing to do. The Navy.

5. And what made you decide to enlist?

A. I felt it was the thing to do. (The draft age was 18, and it was in common practice to allow 17 year olds to sign up, but it wasn’t usually acceptable to enlist at 16. To get around this, my grandfather went with my father to sign him up and lied about his age.)

6. Was there a particular reason you chose the Navy rather than one of the other branches?

A. Two friends had joined the Navy. (Both were nephews of my Uncle Leeman, who was also in the War as a member of the US Army Air Forces and later as a member of the reorganized US Air Force.)

7. Did you consider yourself "patriotic" before you enlisted?

A. Yes. Very patriotic.

8. What was your rank when you enlisted? What was your rank when you were discharged?

A. Seaman. Seaman 1st class.

9. Where did you go for basic training?

A. Norfolk, VA.

10. What did you think of boot camp?

A. Very confusing. It was my first time away from home.

11. Where were you assigned after you completed basic training?

A. Aboard USS Alabama. (BB-60.)

12. Did you have a choice in that?

A. No choice.

13. What type of ship did you serve on?

A. Battleship.

14. What was it like being on the ship?

A. It seemed like a small town.

15. Could you feel it moving?

A. Yes to moving.

16. Did you ever get seasick?

A. Yes, while serving food in the mess hall.

17. And what sorts of jobs did you have?

A. Worked on deck first and then in gun turret #2. (If I remember correctly, this refers to one of the 127mm twin mount cannon turrents on the starboard side. The Alabama has been a museum ship since before I was born, and my father attended Alabama association reunions from time to time. I can't remember how many times I toured that ship, and the USS Drum before it was drydocked and closed to the public. I've stood in the turret alongside my father and looked into his bunk room.)

18. What campaigns did you take part in and what was your ship’s role?

A. Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, Asiatic Pacific Raid, Hollandia operations, Marianas operation, Western Carolina Island operation, Leyte operation, Okinawa operation, Japan operations

19. Did your ship ever come under attack?

A. Under attack many times.

20. Can you talk about how you felt? Angry, scared?

A. Nothing much. I was too young to be scared.

21. Were you ever injured in service?

A. No injuries.

22. Was there anything you did on the ship for recreation or to try and relax? Was there even time for that?

A. Played poker.

23. What is your most vivid memory of your time in service?

A. When we were in several typhoons.

24. What was the hardest part of your service?

A. Not seeing land for 18 months. (He's described a number of memories of life aboard ship over the years, including cross the International Date Line, which he did several times while on board, and the initiation rites performed by experienced sailors on those who were crossing for the first time.)

25. Being in the Navy, you weren't likely to see face-to-face combat, but did you ever see its aftermath?

A. One time. (This is something my father would never talk about with his children.)

26. Where were you on VE day (May 7-8, 1945) and what did you think of it?

A. In South Pacific. (At sea, presumably.)

27. Where were you when you heard about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima? And Nagasaki?

A. In South Pacific. (Again, at sea.)

28. Were you surprised that they dropped it on cities rather than military targets?

A. Not really. Had more effect on cities. It saved a lot of American lives.

29. What did you think of it at the time? What about now?

A. Nothing. I felt like it had to be done.

30. Where were you when you heard that the Japanese had surrendered?

A. Yokasuka, Japan.

31. Is there anything you did in the service that you were especially proud of?

A. Only service for my country.

32. What was the process of leaving the Navy like?

A. Sent to Jacksonville, FL from CA; was mustered out with honorable discharge papers. (Which are framed and hanging in my parents’ house.)

33. Once you were out and back home, do you remember the first thing you did?

A. Hugged Mama and Daddy.

34. What did you do for a living after the war?

A. Worked in hardware store and packing house. Then went to college.

35. How do you think taking part in the war changed your life?

A. Made me grow up and gave me a chance for adventure. (My father likes to tell us that he was a hellraiser when he got back, until my mother civilized him. My mother just laughs and tells us all she did was tell him she wouldn’t see him unless he started attending church with her and cleaned up his act. She did something right, because you’ve rarely met a man so straight-laced. He was a church deacon for years, as one example.)

36. What do you hope that my generation and future generations learns from World War II?

A. I hope they can realize there were a lot of sacrifices made and lives given for people's freedom.

37. What do you think about gamers playing video games based on World War II?

A. As long as they are slanted toward Americans, I see nothing wrong with it.

38. When groups of gamers are playing these games together it is common for some of them to play as the enemy. They might play as Germans defending the beach at Normandy for example. What's your opinion of that?

A. I do not think any should play being an enemy of the USA.
Current Mood: proud
nata5 on December 8th, 2007 05:49 am (UTC)
I envy you. I had a grandfather in the Army (Rangers). Due to my life choices I never got to get to ask questions. As well as once I was back into the family fold he had Alzheimer's to the point that memory was not there. Great Grandmother that live till I was almost 15 again memory issues and I was only barely able to scrap some knowledge about the Great Depression from a farmers perspective. That is probably my only life regret which was not to gain the knowledge of my most eldest of elders.

Though the last question I would have to say, if only to play devils advocate, "If god be with us then who be against us?" If only to discuss that there was another side that believed in god as well and thought they were doing what was right. Then why is it that bad for others to play a game from the different point of view? However what this man saw was not a game it was life and death. I respect his opinions he paid a great to the US.
Ace Lightning: mugshotacelightning on December 8th, 2007 07:58 am (UTC)
my father served in WW II. i am not totally sure about all the details, but i think he was drafted. he must have been around 19 or 20, because he was in the middle of getting a degree from a technical college, and he never went back after he got out of the service. also, he was missing the thumb and first two fingers of his left hand (actually, not "missing" - he had stumps, basically the first joint of each one) from an accident with a table saw in high school wood shop, but he was still considered "able-bodied" enough to be a soldier. he was in the Army, as a repair mechanic for the motors and generators associated with a field kitchen. they had gasoline-powered mixers and slicers, gasoline-powered refrigerators - even the stoves burned gasoline. somehow, most of the experiences he told me about when i was a child had to do with mixing and baking bread for the troops. his recipe for bread began with a 100-lb. sack of flour ;-)

i'm pretty sure he never actually saw combat, nor fired a weapon at an enemy. his unit went to various islands in the Pacific, and i think he spent some time in the Philippines. being with a field kitchen apparently made a soldier very popular with other troops; they would trade him various items for bread yeast and canned fruit in syrup, which they would use to brew illicit alcoholic beverages. he had some interesting souvenirs, such as an ashtray made out of the base of an artillery shell, and a Marine Corps K-Bar knife (which would have been worth a pretty penny as a collectible, except that the original leather handle material had rotted off). he married my mother after he was discharged from the Army - they were married in April 1947. he always seemed cheerful when he reminisced about WW II.

at some point during my hippie peacenik years, i had a blinding flash of insight. now, i am NOT denigrating the horrors of war (you know i know better than that). but for most of the men of my father's generation, WW II was the most fun they ever had. young men from small towns all over the US got to see exotic places, drink exotic booze, and screw exotic women - if the war hadn't happened, most of them might never have gotten more than 100 miles from the places they were born. many of them, like my father, never experienced combat or were ever in serious personal danger at all. no wonder that whole generation of men spent the rest of their lives reminiscing about the war!

Edited at 2007-12-08 08:01 am (UTC)
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on December 8th, 2007 06:17 pm (UTC)
It was the seminal experience of most of those men's lives. How can they go back to the farm after seeing the lights of gay Par-ee? I think partly, they reminisced about it because of that, the great adventure of their lives, yes, but also because they were part of the American sword and shield. They lived and breathed the dream of glory and shared from the cups of their forefathers who had struggled against tyranny and oppression to defend the American dream. My generation doesn't have much use for jingoism or patriotism, and neither did yours, but then, honestly? We didn't face the Nazis or the Imperial Japanese military, did we? Osama bin Laden and Sadaam Hussein are poor substitutes for villains when you compare them to monsters like Adolf Hitler or Tojo.
Ace Lightning: earthacelightning on December 9th, 2007 04:53 am (UTC)
well, i grew up during the Cold War, indoctrinated almost from birth with the idea that America was the lone haven of freedom, the heart and soul of the "free world", standing beleaguered but ever-vigilant against the tyrannical forces of the Red Menace. people sincerely believed that Communism was a far worse threat than Nazism and Japanese feudal imperialism put together. it was all the more pervasive because we weren't fighting an actual shooting war against a visible enemy - just like today's "war on terror", the "war on Communism" inclined us to fear and hate almost anything that couldn't specifically be identified as "American". those who fought in WW II really did believe that they were fighting to defend America, and, by extension, the rest of the world, from a clearly perceptible evil, and maybe they were right, although the real world is very seldom so clear-cut. at any rate, though, they did believe it, and they lived and died believing that they had participated in something great and noble.

but Korea, the Cold War, and Vietnam were different. the Cold War was nothing more or less than an attempt to make people live in a chronic state of vague anxiety, so that they could be frightened into allowing the government to do whatever it wanted to do. (sound familiar?) Korea and Vietnam both presented us with an alarming scenario - allow Communist goverments in South Korea, or South Vietnam, and, according to the "domino theory", there'd be Red Chinese and Russian troops on the streets of San Francisco by next Tuesday. no wonder my generation, upon reaching the age of reason, rejected every possible principle of the mind-set that had brought our country to this state. American society, and to a lesser degree world society, changed more drastically in the years between 1965 and 1980 than it had in the previous fifty or a hundred years. when i tell today's young adults that, in the late 1960s, young men with long hair were arrested for appearing that way in public, and/or set upon by mobs who forcibly shaved off the offending hair (not to mention all the issues regarding women that i know you're tired of hearing me rant about), the kids flat-out can't believe it.

and, personally, i have a lot of trouble with "patriotism". i don't deny that i'm American; it's still a pretty decent country, although not without its flaws, and i'm rather glad i was born here. but for a long time now, i've considered myself mostly a "citizen of the world" - and more recently, i've begun to feel that even that is a little too narrow...

Merlinmerlin_t_wizard on December 8th, 2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
Trav, this is very interesting. My father was in combat on Okinawa with the USMC. I had no idea that our fathers had seen combat together.
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on December 8th, 2007 06:09 pm (UTC)
Neither had I. My father's ship had a contingent of Marines on board, of course, as nearly every Naval vessel of any size did at the time. It'd be quite the coincidence if they were both aboard the Alabama at any point.
Merlinmerlin_t_wizard on December 8th, 2007 06:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, that would be. Unfortunately, I don't remember if he ever told me what ship brought him to Okinawa (and he's no longer alive to ask). He was a rifleman with Carson's rangers Raiders. Are you familiar with the book "Killing ground on Okinawa"? It was written about the battles and strategies in taking Okinawa. He was one of three Marines who survived the battle of Sugar Loaf hill. Quite some stories.

Edited at 2007-12-08 07:34 pm (UTC)
craigers01 on December 10th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)
That was a great read buddy. I love your dad (and mom of course!)