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My father's father: a short story of one veteran

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- It is hard to tell who is a veteran just by looking at someone on the street. Some people wear clothing that proudly displays their military affiliation; others carry the torch silently, without a word.

I never knew that my grandfather was a veteran until I returned home after my first Air Force assignment; in Okinawa.

Upon first seeing me, my grandfather said, "You must be glad to be home to American girls."

I didn't really know what to say or really even how to respond; I had never said one cuss word around him my whole life and definitely never willfully entered the moral conversation that would surely ensue if I talked about dating.

Instead, I stood there a bit speechless as he continued, "Did you ever see Iejima island? It was right across the water from where we were over there."

It took a minute and a few more questions to piece together that "where we were" neglected to say: as part of the Pacific island-hopping campaign during World War II.

Sure, he was about the right age, but certainly he would have said something before?

I had never even considered the possibility that my soft-spoken grandfather who spent his life dedicated to the church as a minister had ever served in the military.

We spent the next couple hours talking about his experiences as a radio operator for the Army Air-Corps during the war.

He talked about being shot at by snipers while in the chow line and waiting in Okinawa for the order to come to invade the Japanese mainland.

And then in a flash the atomic bombs ended the war with Japan and the order to invade never came.

As he waited on Okinawa he listened on the radio as the frightened pilot of an aircraft carrying an envoy of a surrendering Japan encountered American aircraft and excitedly asked, "There's P-51s!! What do I do? What do I do?"

After what seemed like an eternity they were finally given the order to return home, only to be crushed by a tropical storm while aboard troop carrier ships and forced to return to land with nearly everyone onboard violently seasick.

Eventually he did return to America, and he began a life far removed from the military, but I have never seen him appear as young as when he talked about his time in the Pacific.

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