Monday, May 26, 2008

Personal Memorial Day Perspective

Unexpected Connection to Book

Full Fathom Five

Amazing to me how quickly businesses rush to be first, even to the point of skipping over what's important. Am I missing something? Doesn't Memorial Day come before Father's Day? I entered a couple of national chain brick and mortar bookstores this weekend expecting to see some sort of display of books and DVDs that would reflect a Memorial Day sensibility, or some reference to veterans. Instead, I came face to face with an attractive arrangement of books promoting Father's Day. Isn't that in June? Guess there just isn't time to celebrate Memorial Day this year. Couldn't we do both?

Am I old fashioned wanting to concentrate on honoring the veterans that have given their lives for our country before progressing to whatever the next holiday may be? I didn't move the date up from the traditional 30th to the 26th (date changes each year, now,) but I've adjusted to go along with it. Are others more preoccupied with just the long weekend?

The very first war in my lifetime began during my childhood. Subsequent police actions (as one war was called) followed by other declared wars that came later, all seemed quite different to me from that first one I knew, World War II. I'm sure the differences among all those conflicts were of little consequence to the many individuals who were maimed, those with no physical scars but whose lives were forever altered, and especially for all those who had their lives permanently taken from them. What about their families – children, spouses, other friends and relatives?

Nevertheless, that first war of my lifetime, World War II, has forever been deeply imbedded in my memory. I believe that without a doubt the existence of this country, free, as we know it to be, depended entirely upon our forces prevailing in that war's outcome. Fortunately, we did prevail. We actually believed, as did those who gave their lives, that WWII would be the war to end all wars.

Those we honor this Memorial Day have died believing they were doing their utmost to preserve our nation's freedom, in whatever war they served. This commemoration begins with those who fought in the Civil War extending through the present time.

About those bookstores I mentioned above, I was disappointed Saturday when they had no special display of books focused on Memorial Day. There were various special display sections labeled Biography, Memoirs, New Releases, New Hardbacks, Fiction, Non Fiction, other general categories, along with Paperbacks. I noticed mixed into some of these groups were a few books associated with WWII , Korea and Viet Nam in addition to various other collections on tables and bookshelves at the front of the store.

Unexpectedly, even to myself, as this was not my pre-arranged plan, I was able to promote the idea at both stores of featuring a special table or display for Memorial Day, especially to include some books about WWII. Whether or not the suggestion resulted in any action remained to be seen. The idea did seem to come as a surprise to those in both bookstores, with the Manager in one store saying he guessed their corporate people didn't think of doing that, as the word his store received was to promote Father's Day. Maybe they could do both.

I mentioned I had noticed an attractive book display when I walked in the store. I told him, "That's nice, but Father's Day isn't until June. Memorial Day is coming up now." I added, "WWII memoirs, such as Full Fathom Five, are especially significant. Also, fewer and fewer of these Veterans are still living from whom we can learn the lessons of history. Honoring those no longer with us on Memorial Day is especially important for families, those Veterans remaining and all of us. What too many people today don't realize is, that you, I and this store might not even be here like this, if it hadn't been for the men like those WWII Vets we honor."

I was surprised that Saturday to learn the Mgr. at that same bookstore had responded to my query of a week or so earlier and ordered for his shelves some copies of the new book, Full Fathom Five, about which you can read in my previous post. I was delighted when he told me he had received the copies, so I suggested that book and those select titles I noticed on other tables could quickly and easily comprise a display to honor Memorial Day.

Maybe it's too much to expect such a display actually materialized, but I believe I have to speak up about what is important to me. Maybe this will be important to others, too. One thing I have learned in my lifetime is not to remain silent, or just to complain, then wonder why there is no change in the status quo.

I want to explain how I unexpectedly developed a special personal interest in the book, Full Fathom Five. I learned a year ago when talking about this book with one of the most significant men in my life from the time I was a young girl that he had not just been in the Navy during WWII, but was part of the U.S. Navy's Submarine Service – a group consisting entirely of volunteers.

This relative, a decade my senior in age had not strongly emphasized his military duty with the U.S. Navy was actually part of the Submarine Service, when I was growing up, as far as I had known. Maybe I hadn't understood there were various services within the U.S. Navy; perhaps he was modest, or he was just conditioned to follow the automatic general secrecy nature adhered to by those in that Service even long after WWII ended, as the author, Mary Lee Coe Fowler, discusses in her book.

My family member entered the U.S. Naval Service directly from high school in 1943 about the time Mary Lee's father, Commander Coe's active military career was regrettably and tragically ending somewhere in the South Pacific. (I prefer to think Jim Coe and his crew remained on duty for the remainder of WWII, wherever they became lost in the Pacific Ocean.) Ultimately my relative was among personnel assigned to the Admiral in Command of the U. S. Naval Force in the South Pacific, Seventh Fleet, Task Force/Group 71.

I sent my loved one a copy of the book once I realized what a significant connection existed for him with this book's contents about the U.S. Navy's Submarine Service. He had just completed reading Full Fathom Five, the book, when I spoke with him on the phone this weekend. He was impressed, saying the facts in the book, many with which he was quite familiar from experience and extensive reading in recent years, are correct based on his knowledge. Also, he noted he was pleased to have his memory refreshed with the account of the transition of communications (his specialty area) from the Philippines to the transmitters (as he recited over the phone to me the call letters) where he and others were stationed in Australia sending and receiving all transmissions with our submarines in the South Pacific.

He spoke of the U.S.S. Orion submarine tender; named various submarines, including Bluefish, Bullhead; described encountering the Bluefish again after WWII and coincidentally providing maintenance on her when he was in the U.S. Naval Reserve living on the East Coast. Like many others, he was well aware of the special importance of the South Pacific submarine fleet when intelligence information revealed the Japanese fleet was steaming toward Australia. Those in the Submarine Service have stories to exchange with each other of those tension-filled treacherous times during which he was a Radioman stationed on land in Perth, Australia.

Last year through Mother's Day and the first anniversary of my husband's death I recall visiting him and his wife. He was reading quite incessantly at the time, showing me many books which he was still thumbing through their well-worn pages. The books had to do with WW II's Submarine Service, Pigboats, and he talked of author Roscoe (noted in Fowler's book.) He had sought reference listings during these years of all the U.S. Navy's submarines and detailed information about them along with their personnel. He was especially concerned with listings of those submarines and men lost at sea, and any subsequent information, including the fact some once-lost submarine remains have been located in recent years.

He mentioned having earlier begun to research Submariner web sites, also that he had started writing his own memoirs of those times. Unfortunately, medical issues resulted in his having to discontinue independently performing both activities.

He talked about when stationed in Perth, Australia, each time he requested assignment to submarine duty, he was generally turned down by his commanding officer. His officer told him his technical and radio transmission skills were of more vital need on land. He would have been a recipient of some welcome incoming messages from South Pacific submarines and would have been listening intently for some that never came.

He has been interested in all known South Pacific submarine records and stories. Also, he's keenly interested in any new information about long lost submarines located in recent years. The Bullhead and crew would be of special interest to him should it ever be located, since after the boat left its Australian berth the boat's crew was never heard from again, he said.

I cannot imagine what life would have been like without him all these years. I'm glad our mother and I did not have to experience such loss. My heart goes out to the orphans, the Mary Lee Coe Fowler's of the world, their families and all submariners.

I offer this Memorial Day tribute to all those whose presence is with us only in spirit and memory, whatever war in which they had their lives taken from them, but I especially think of those in WWII. Though we may honor this May 26th date, I'm sure I'll think of this tribute again on the more traditional date of May 30th -- the date I have been accustomed to recognizing for so many years.


  1. I was so pleased to read your great article regarding Memorial Day. You are certainly right, the book stores should have had a BIG display of books about the wars and those who served.

    My husband served from Oct. 1942 until January 1946. He was with the 96th Infantry Division and was in the Invasion of Okinawa on Easter Sunday, 1944. Huge groups of their Division lost their lives in those battles.

    We were married 9 months before he was shipped overseas and he was in the South Pacific for 18 months.

    I lost so many of my schoolmates and friends during World War ll. My middle son served during the Vietnam War...He spent 2 years in Germany with NATO.

    Thanks for writing about Memorial Day.

    I've been very slow adding to my Blog. I'm sure I will get back to it soon.

    Thanks for all your comments...Mary

  2. I think booksellers are just like publishers and literary agents; they don't want to take on Memorial Day-related books/manuscripts for fear of bringing readers down.

  3. After reading your post for Memorial Day 2021, I came here to your archives and find that we both have honored Memorial Day throughout the years in our blogs. The young man I met on the beach at Half Moon Bay when we were 17 years old was drafted and sent to Vietnam as a helicopter mechanic in January 1970. Although he returned from the war physically, he never was able to feel at peace in the world again. One of the last things he wrote before he died at age 58 in the Palo Alto VA Hospital on April 20, 2008, was, "I just want to go home." Thank you so much for writing about Memorial Day, Joared.

    1. So difficult for so many of our military service persons who survive wars but whose lives, and those of others who care about them, are forever altered.