I wrote this in the spring of 2016, when my father was still alive:
I spent today in New Jersey, beside the hospital bed of my 90 year old father. In the afternoon, a kindly young nurse came in and asked a standard battery of questions, which ended with “would you say you are happy? Do you have bad dreams?” My father softly smiles and says “No, I’m fine.” Although my father is a scrupulously honest man, he is not telling the truth here: In the past hours he has awoken a number of times, startled to find himself in a room he doesn’t recognize, when a moment before he was in a war, far away, in both geography and time.
The dreams are rooted in memories, unwanted souvenirs that followed him home from three wars and 33 years on active duty. It is a near endless macabre library of images awaiting his eyes to close: An old woman pointing out a booby trap in the iron triangle; an F-8F ramp striking the USS Randolph, leaving only a floating tire; Severed heads from highway 1 south of Da Nang; A friendly fire accident by the USS North Carolina; A drunken sailor, drowned himself off Inchon; 23 classmates dying in a single day; A radio call from a Special Forces camp being over run; A friend handing him goodbye letters, explaining his number was up; a Huey floor slippery with blood; Having approved the pass for a man aboard the USS Thresher; His brother, Chief Ryan appearing Christmas week and saying his ship, the USS Vincennes, had gone to the bottom with 322 shipmates; His own father crying hearing the news my father was returning to Korea; A young officer, who survived the same tour, returning home, arrives in the middle of the night at Wake island, decides to dive into the pool to cool off, but it had been emptied. He dies in route to Pearl Harbor; a woman, unaware she is already a widow, awaits in Coronado expecting a happy reunion. It is endless, and these are the ones he can speak of. There are countless others for which words can not be found.
Father never spoke of these things until he was past 70. Slowly over time his skin thinned, and he slowly became porous, and leaked these images. Today, as an aging survivor, an eye witness to a particularly violent century, he feels obligated to remember the departed, but the memories bring him no more peace than his silence did. We listen, but we were not there, and if you were not there, his words will bring you little closer to the images in his mind. He is surrounded by family, but in coping with these images, he is alone.
Most Americans of a certain age can recall some of President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” These were not mere words to men of my Father’s profession, it was a cause to pledge your very life to. My Father did not care if the poor of the world chose collective farming or workers wanted social reforms. He just recognized that political systems that don’t value individuals always degenerate to Gestapos, concentration camps, gulags and mass graves. My Father fought to stop the spread of these things. He did not fight for glory, national honor nor American business interests. It was only about human beings.
When I was little, maybe 9, my Father took us to The Jefferson Memorial. There he explained to us that The United States of America was neither a business nor a playground, it is a set of ideals, which made it the last best hope of mankind. The dream that mankind had moved past kings and dictators, past theocrats and oppressors, to a world where individuals governed themselves as equals. We could look at the ceiling and read Jefferson’s words plainly:
“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
From there we went to Arlington, where my father explained that the nation had set aside an eternal resting place for the citizens who had laid down their lives for the ideals of this country, and if he were ever to take a place among them, we should not weep, as it would only mean that he had lived for something greater than himself.
The title of this story is simple: Although both parties in this country want to claim ownership of patriotism, their narcissistic candidates and zealot followers don’t own it nor have any right bestow it on anyone. Like most career officers of his generation, my father never spoke of politics, and had no allegiance to any candidate. In the privacy of our home, he expressed his great admiration of FDR. Dad has been a life long vocal opponent of discrimination in any form, and he felt there was no need for any child in this country to be hungry. My fathers views on a just society would make him a traditional Democrat, but his views on personal integrity often leave him unable to support nominated candidates.
When I am enduring a lecture on the evils of FDR from a person born since 1945 who has never gone a even a few days without food, far less years with little hope, I suspect they would soften their zealot views if they had actually lived through the Great Depression as my father did. When I read forwards and stories claiming that no one with liberal social values supports this country, I think perhaps they wouldn’t send that to me if they understood they were slandering my Father; When an occasional tree hugging idiot assumes that he is entitled to address every old man in a veteran cap as a war monger, including my father, it makes me equally livid. Any reasonable person understands that patriotism has no party, and the country we live in, was provided for us by men of many perspectives, but in election years, our country seems woefully short of reasonable people, and overflowing with vocal zealots, all of who would benefit from some personal first hand experience with others they are so quick to condemn.
This is my issue, my Father is bothered by none of this. He is from a generation of men who’s love of country and family were strong enough to never need the acknowledgement of others, far less praise nor reward. They were motivated solely by belief and love.
William Edward Wynne
1925 – 2017
Above, my father’s official USN photo circa 1975. His service was the centerpiece of his life. The men of his generation, gave us the most valuable gift in human history: Our free world.
It is a gift we didn’t earn, they purchased it for us at a staggering human cost. All they asked for in return is that he not squander it. We no longer have to answer to them, for they are all gone now. From here forward we are accountable only to our consciences. Pray that it is enough.
10 Replies to “Patriotism has no Party”
My father, a poor immigrant who arrived here in 1923, at the age of 17, from a farm in Sweden only 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle. he put himself through high school, 2 years of college, seminary, and left for China in 1932 at the depth of the depression. He had been fortunate in that the polio he had as a small child didn’t leave him permanently disabled. He never talked about going through Ellis Island, and I imagine that he had to cover up any limp that he might have had, because that would have been a reason for sending him back to Sweden. He didn’t have a limp as an adult, but he did walk differently.
There is a post polio syndrome that affects people in later life, and I believe it affected him as he aged, but he stayed active. He did tire easily.
My mother was born on a farm in a Swedish-settled community in Iowa, (she grew up speaking Swedish and English) and, after teaching school, became a nurse. She joined my father a year later, and they had to wait to get married for a year because another newlywed couple had to be recalled because of marital problems, and the church wanted to make sure that they were suited to the work. My oldest sister was born in China, and, when the Japanese invaded, the three of them (my mother was pregnant with my second sister) fled south, even though they were neutrals, because the Japanese really didn’t care who they shot.
They ended up in Haiphong, Indochina (now Viet Nam) and caught a Portuguese freighter (all three were neutral at the time) to Hong Kong, where my second sister was born. They all returned to the U.S. in 1939 and returned to China in 1940, passing through occupied Shanghai, across China, and the battle lines between the Japanese and Chinese Nationalists, and, quite fortunately, were with the Nationalists when Pearl Harbor was bombed and we were no longer neutral. They spent most of the war with the Nationalists, doing relief work and, since my mother had trained as a midwife when they were in the U.S., she helped birth a lot of the Chinese troops children.
My mother and sisters flew out of China to India Christmas Eve of 1944. I was born 11 days later in Calcutta, and my father followed 6 months later. We all came back to the U.S. on a refugee ship, (coincidentally, a Swedish ship) via the Suez canal because the war was still raging in the Pacific.
We returned to China in 1947, and left on the last plane out of the province we were in for Hong Kong because of the revolution in 1949. We waited for a year and a half to see how things would turn out before returning to the U.S. in 1951.
That’s all background. My parents were witness to the vast changes in the Far East, and eventually returned to Taiwan in 1962.
My parents witnessed the unbelievable poverty of China, the cruelty and murderous treatment of the Japanese, (they were also bombed twice), the cruelty and murder involved with the Communist revolution, the incredible corruption of the Nationalists that made it possible, and all the vast refugee movements caused by those upheavals.
My father died at 90, in 1996, but he didn’t start to talk about some of his experiences until he was 85. The death and destruction, the witnessing of the destruction of most of his work of the first 17 years by the Communist takeover, the murder of 3 fellow missionaries outside of the city we were in, and the suicides by two of the native pastors that he had a part in training so that their families wouldn’t be persecuted took its toll. It definitely affected his health.
My father held no animosity towards the Nationalists, the Communists or the Japanese, but one thing that did bother him was that he was accused of embezzlement because of a clerical error by his superior’s spouse, who was doing clerical work for him. I found out that my father waited to return to missionary work in Taiwan when that man retired.
Growing up here in the U.S., I didn’t understand the screams and moans that my dad would make in his sleep. There is a name for it now: PTSD.
My parents were proud to be U.S. citizens, even though they witnessed and were subjected to some of the idiocies of our foreign policies. They savored the freedoms that we all enjoy because, in spite of all the flaws in our country, they had seen how fortunate we are here.
William, this explains very well why Tom Brokaw named your father’s generation the “greatest”. Perhaps in one respect it was the war, but I suspect it was also the harder conditions many people lived in that made them meet and endure hardships, disappointments and concerns far better than we seem to be doing now. People matured earlier then, took responsibility earlier, and seemed to cope better when things did not go well. It is hard to see articles about college students today demanding “trigger warnings” and safe rooms with the kids their age who went ashore at Omaha Beach or Tarawa. As for “warmongers”, I was reminded of the story told by William Manchester, JFK’s press secretary, about his WW2 experience. He was being interviewed by a young reporter during the Vietnam war, who was of course very much against the war. He mentioned that in the battle for Bloody Ridge on Okinawa, he was wounded and sent back to a hospital. After a couple of days, he felt better and asked to sent back to his unit. The doctors refused, saying he needed more time to recuperate. So he and another Marine stole their uniforms and weapons and went AWOL – back to the front lines, and rejoined their units during the fighting around Shuri castle, some of the worst battles in the campaign. The reporter would not believe that anyone would leave a hospital to go back to fight. He told her, “We were not fighting for the United States or democracy or Roosevelt – we were fighting for the other nine men in our squad.” And that is how it was…..
Please express to your dad grateful thanks and appreciation from me, my wife, our son and our nation. All of us should be mindful of what has been sacrificed for us in the name of achieving and preserving our freedom.
It is sad and malicious, for those who protest, to do so with the very freedom that was won for them by those they vilify.
THANK YOU VETERANS FOR WHAT WE HAVE TODAY!
Always remember and honor them!
William…..that is one of the best essays that explains our situation that I have read. Thank you for your insight, and for sharing about your father. Mine, a disabled veteran of Okinawa, only turned loose of his images one time, and it was a public venue, which he did not let me know about prior to the occasion. Therefore, I missed it, and there was no taping or archive of the occasion. But people that were there said the crowd of several hundred people were spell bound as he spoke, and that the crowd left silent and crying after his presentation, which was mostly about the the sacrifice, bravery, and courage that he had seen, with no mention of his own role.
I do not know how to honor that sacrifice, bravery, and courage in this current political and social climate, other than to live my life as you do with personal honor, standards and love for freedom and a country that once was the symbol for that freedom. But I am still trying to find a way. Trouble is, I am now old, and have not been effective in that effort despite a lifetime of trying.
As a former Marine, I know full well the sacrifices that the Marines, Army, Army Air Corps, and Navy made at Okinawa. Bless your father and you for honoring him: what he witnessed was hell.
Our parents often chose to hold in the horrors that they witnessed until they were old. In some ways, they chose not to burden us, and in others, they had a hard time describing the indescribable. I know that at his death, my father was at peace with himself. I hope the same was true for your father.
We can only try to live better lives than our fathers and to honor their sacrifices by passing on their history.
William, our thoughts and prayers are with you and your Father
Steve and Ruth
My folks both grew up in the depression and served in WW2; Dad in the Air Corps, Mom in the Navy. They said little of what they saw or experienced save wild stories of parties and such. Both believed we should make a better world with honest effort and concern for others. Try to do well of course but never at the expense of another. The idea of instant gratification was foreign and alien to them. That is what they grew up with and imparted that to my two sisters and me. They died in 96 and 98. Both had flying adventures during the war and certainly encouraged my interest in airplanes though they were very reticent about actually flying.
Present day that legacy, in part, is carried on in building a Pietenpol and other projects. The idea growing up was to make sure that at every step you had paid outright for what you bought. Progress may be slow but it is also the journey that is worthwhile.
I did serve in the Air Force and Air Guard and our older son is career military in the Army having served previously in the Marines and Navy.
All the best to you and your Dad, William.
William….your father, and others like him, are truly my heroes! He is the definition of a patriot.
William, your Dad has a special place in my thoughts. I met him at CC#14 and we shared a few Seabee stories. Thanks for sharing his story with us. My thoughts are with you also.
I know that many ex-military people are close-mouthed about their experiences, because as parents we want to protect our children from the bad stuff out there. But we, and so many generations in the past, have probably done a disservice to the generations that followed. By not speaking of the bad, we have also not spoken of the good – the people we saved, evil we stopped, the missions we accomplished at risk, the camaraderie, even the glory.
My own father (WWII) and both grandfathers served, one in WWI, WWII and Korea(! ), and I am a Vietnam-era vet. I know that as a young cadet, my mother’s father spoke more to me about his 33 years of service than he ever did to my mom. But I found that my own son had no interest in national service, neither military, law enforcement nor even at ATC. He never heard those stories from my mom (his grandmother). Perhaps my wife being from Panama, where “public service” is just another name for graft and corruption, had some influence. Or perhaps it’s just a “sign of the times”.
Curiously, I have found similar things even amongst my Israeli friends, all of whom served in at least one war for national survival, some in two. All of them know, at close hand, how vital it is for regular people to stand and fight, but many of them have treated their children very indulgently and want them to avoid service in combat roles if at all possible, and not to get involved in the messes in the North or in Gaza. And they admit this, knowing that the survival of all may depend on that service.
It’s possible, probable in fact, that some day in the future, the USA will be directly threatened. I wonder if whatever generation is around then, so far removed from the depression and WWII, after so many generations of not having heard about the bad guys out there, will be able to stand up and respond as needed. I find encouraging the societal respect & support that returning vets are getting today, so different from the way soldiers were denigrated coming home from Vietnam. But who knows?