By Max Jones
TERRE HAUTE — The number of American military veterans who served their country during World War II are dwindling rapidly. To those remaining, we can’t pay enough tribute. They belong to a generation of men and women who made this nation — and the world — a better and safer place to live.
That’s why events such as Victory Days at Hulman Field this weekend are so important. This special activity, which began Friday and runs through Sunday, allows us to honor and salute WWII veterans, and to teach new generations about their courage and sacrifice.
All the chatter surrounding Victory Days and the display of various World War II artifacts got me thinking a lot this week about the tiny WWII mini-museum I have at my home.
My dad, Joseph L. Jones of Loogootee, served in the United States Marine Corps during the war, attached to the 4th Marine Division in the South Pacific. He passed away more than 10 years ago, and I’m the lucky one in my large family of siblings to have possession of much of his war-era memorabilia.
Among the artifacts are black-and-white photos, most of them snapped of him and his Marine buddies while stationed on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands before or after their military campaigns. The jovial poses mask the seriousness of their mission, which placed them in at least three combat hotspots during the war with Japan.
My dad’s tour of duty included combat on Saipan and Tinian, and a few months later the invasion of Iwo Jima. Like many of his fellow veterans, he talked little about his combat experiences, saying only that Saipan, for him, involved the worst direct fighting with the enemy, and that Iwo Jima was the most tedious because of how U.S. troops were hampered in securing the island due to fierce enemy resistance.
I am extremely proud of my dad’s military service, and my two most prized of his possessions are the Purple Heart and Silver Star, both of which he earned on Saipan.
The Purple Heart, which honors those wounded in combat, has the most interesting history because it is a relatively new addition to the collection. Although he had documentation showing he was entitled to the Purple Heart, Dad chose not to claim the medal. When asked about it, he would brush off the question, saying he wasn’t seriously injured (his wrist was grazed by either shrapnel or a bullet, he was never really sure) and that many, many fellow Marines suffered far more than he did. In essence, he didn’t think he deserved it.
I read a few years ago that Dad’s attitude was not uncommon among WWII veterans. Having experienced firsthand the horrors of war, they were almost embarrassed to accept the Purple Heart, especially if they considered their wounds minor.
Dad’s attitude about the medal did not change until late in his life when he began attending 4th Marines Division reunions. He had the opportunity to get reacquainted with some of his old war buddies, who convinced him that he deserved his Purple Heart and should claim it. He eventually did, and I do not believe he ever felt any embarrassment about it after that point. I sure don’t.
My favorite war story involving my dad was told to us after he died. It came from one of his Marine comrades who wrote a wonderful tribute letter to our family. He obviously had great affection for Dad. One of the poignant memories he shared was that whenever one of their unit’s members was killed in action, Dad would write, on behalf of everyone in the unit, a personal letter of condolence to the fallen Marine’s family.
I cannot adequately express the pride I feel, knowing that somewhere, mixed with personal memorabilia of a family who lost a loved one in that war, there is a comforting letter from a fellow Marine, signed “Joe Jones, USMC.”
I hope Victory Days is a successful event for the Wabash Valley and stirs wonderful memories. It certainly has for me.
Jones can be reached at (812) 231-4336, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.