As I get older, I think of family more, especially those passed on to the Great Beyond.
As I get older, I think of family more, especially those passed on to the Great Beyond. Oh, I thought about family plenty as a younger man too, especially my wife and kids, but this kind of “elder thinking” I do now is deeper than a young man’s thinking. It’s a pondering kind of thinking — a thinking of wonder. I wonder what my family members were really like. I wonder what trials and tribulations they faced, the kinds of life experiences that make us strong and form us into who we are to become.
I was thinking about my mother’s half-brother, my Uncle Bill Hay and his Marine Corps service the other day on the ninth anniversary of his death. Having served in the Marines myself, I regret not learning more about his service during World War II.
In addition to more frequent thoughts of dead family members, I suppose I’m pondering those passed opportunities too. You might even call them regrets.
Typically, I focused on my own life and my years of service in the Marine Corps. Deployed around the world, I was assigned to many places in the States, too, traveling home to Cleveland, Ohio to visit family mostly on holidays.
Uncle Bill didn’t live nearby my closest family members, so we visited with him rarely. He was a private man, introverted I would say. I could have reached out to him by letter or phone but rarely did. I should have invited him to a Marine Corps Ball when I was stationed in Quantico, Va., the closest we came distance-wise to Ohio, but never did.
Those few times I was home in Ohio and had the opportunity to see him, I asked about his military service. I got the sense, like many WWII vets, he wasn’t all that interested in talking about his Marine Corps or wartime experiences. Still, I should have pressed him just a little harder.
But I let that opportunity unfortunately pass me by, another reminder to me of how fast time flies. And it’s a reminder, too, that the time is “now” — not “later” — for trying to keep the legacy of our family members alive.
How much better it would have been to have received the stories directly from the man who actually experienced them? But I waited too long.
Some vague memories share with me a picture of my Uncle Bill, a handsome, curly-haired young man, in a Navy flight jacket. Being a Marine pilot myself, you would think I would have chased him for more facts about that day he had that photo taken in his flight jacket.
The little information he did share with me about his service with the Marines was that he fought in the Pacific theater and served as a crewman on PBJs or Marine Corps B-25 Mitchell bombers. I have a recollection, too, that he haltingly mentioned serving in New Hebrides or New Caledonia, but I can’t remember which.
Interestingly, the Marines trained most of their PBJ pilots at or near Cherry Point — where I finished my own career as an active duty Marine — using Atlantic Field and Edenton Field as Marine Bomber Squadron or VMB training bases.
The Marines used the PBJ aircraft to interdict Japanese ships at the end of the war in the Pacific in the 1944-1945 timeframe. They were decisive in the campaign to roll back the Japanese empire toward liberating the Philippines and ultimately seizing the Japanese main islands themselves.
Another piece of evidence I have that ties Uncle Bill to VMB squadrons is a USMC patch I found as a child in my mom’s box of sewing notions. I remember my mom saying her brother Bill gave her that patch when he came home from the war. I carried that patch in my own flight jacket throughout my career in the Marines. A blue shield with five stars with a white, winged castle symbol superimposed over a red diamond in the center of the blue shield, it represents the Aviation Engineers of the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps or IMAC.
IMAC fought in Southeast Asia during WWII. And while Uncle Bill never told me his rank in the Marines, his obituary mentioned he was a technical sergeant, a military grade that gives me another clue of his service in the Marines.
I regret I lost the chance to discover my Uncle Bill while he was alive. I hope to make up a bit of that regret now.
The picture of him in a Navy flight jacket, that IMAC patch, and the little bit of information about his service in the Marines he was willing to share, gives me information I can build upon to help retain my Uncle Bill’s legacy. I’ll keep you advised on what I find.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.