When I was seven years old my brother Donn joined the marines. It was 1942. He was fifteen years old. He forged his birth certificate and badgered my father into vouching for him.
At boot camp on Paris Island the DIs knew he was too young and tried to make him quit by being especially hard on him. It made him all the more determined and tough as a pit bull.
He was wounded the first time on Bouganville saw action on Guadalcanal and Guam and finally Iwo Jima where he was wounded twice. The first time they took him to the hospital ship where he was told he was going home. Donn pulled a forty-five caliber pistol my father had sent him and told the doctors, “I’m going back on the beach with my squad.” He was wounded again. This time it was a Japanese grenade and this time they sent him home.
I remember seeing my parents age visibly each time the telegram came, “We regret to inform you…” He came home with trench foot, had lost most of his teeth and had malaria which he suffered with periodically for the rest of his life. He would get festering sores where tiny shards of black metal would work their way out of his body – bits of the Japanese grenade that sent him home.
I saw him receive his purple heart at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. He stood there ramrod straight on the stage along with other warriors with terrible wounds. A parade passed the stage and a band played the Marines Hymn. Seeing him standing there so young and those other brave marines made me cry uncontrollably. Seventy-one years later I still cry thinking of it.
Donn kept most of what he had experienced to himself until the day he saw the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” The horrific amphibious landing scene was too much for him. He started shaking all over and went completely to pieces. After the movie he said he was troubled by the effect it had on him. It had never happened before. That was fifty-six years after the war.
This is one personal story – one of tens of thousands. After what these brave men and women have done for their country, and the terrible things they have seen, how can we, in good conscience as a nation, turn our backs on them in their time of need. Have we no shame?