By Max Jones
TERRE HAUTE —
My late father, Joseph L. Jones, was a veteran of World War II, a 4th Division Marine whose service sent him to the South Pacific and into combat on the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.
Because of that family history I took special interest in the current HBO mini-series, “The Pacific,” which aired in its entirety this past weekend after an initial 10-week run that premiered in March.
I watched all 10 episodes the first time through and found the series fascinating, informative, disturbing and, at times, both entertaining and very hard to watch. The story line made for good TV drama, while the depictions of combat were shockingly realistic.
The approach was similar to such modern World War II classics as “Saving Private Ryan,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” and “Band of Brothers.” The series was produced by veteran actor Tom Hanks and was a true story crafted from two books by Marine veterans and from various historical data. It followed three men — Marine enlistees — whose lives were forever changed by the war.
In one of the early episodes, a segment particularly caught my attention because one of the characters was referred to by the nickname “Hoosier.” Wow, I thought. This guy must have been from Indiana. During the episode, “Hoosier” was seriously injured and evacuated during the battle for the island of Peleliu.
That was it for “Hoosier.” No further mention in the mini-series, until the end of the final episode. That’s when small segments about each of the principle characters served as the climax for the show. Several scenes into the conclusion, the name of “Hoosier” Bill Smith appeared, followed by a brief biography that listed him as a native of Loogootee, Indiana, who survived his injuries and returned to live out his life in his hometown. He married and had four children, and died in the mid-1980s.
I was startled — not just because Loogootee is my hometown. “Hoosier” Bill Smith is my uncle, the husband of my dad’s sister, Lela, and father of my first cousins, Craig, Carla, Connie and Carey. I knew Uncle Bill had been in the war (it seemed to me that all the men of my dad’s generation had been), but never realized he was, like my dad, a Marine veteran.
The Loogootee Tribune published a story in its recent edition about Bill Smith and the appearance of his character in “The Pacific.” The newspaper story explained that after the war, Bill remained close friends with many of his combat buddies, including Robert Leckie, who wrote the book “Helmet for my Pillow.” Leckie’s book was one of the two on which “The Pacific” was based.
It’s been a proud family moment, enhanced by its occurrence around the Memorial Day holiday. Uncle Bill and my dad wouldn’t have made much of it. In their minds, what they did was what other men their age did. The only difference was that they were lucky enough to survive, while thousands of others did not.
So that leaves the rest of us to make a big deal out of it. To make movies dramatizing their service. To remember what they and all veterans of wartime, living and dead, did for their country.
I’m remembering Uncle Bill today. And my dad. And all those who served. Please join me in that Memorial Day tribute.
Max Jones can be reached via
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (812) 231-4336.