E & P: Thanks for the tributes to our WWII veterans

By Richard Wiens, The Triplicate November 15, 2013 06:00 pm

Kudos to the organizers of Del Norte’s Veterans Day activities for recognizing the pressing need to show appreciation to our World War II service members while we still have them around.

And while organizers stopped at naming five WWII vets as parade grand marshals, hopefully the message came through to all of our oldest veterans: Monday was about honoring U.S. military personnel in general, but this one was especially for those of you who fought in the ’40s.

I was pleased to see Frank McNamara among those grand marshals. He served at Okinawa — scene of the bloodiest of the island-hopping invasions that helped bring an end to the war against Japan. Back home, he became a veteran of a different sort, narrowly escaping the two biggest surges of the ’64 tsunami, one of which rose to mid-torso at the downtown paint store he managed, and the other of which chased him up L Street toward higher ground.

Now 92, Frank is a survivor, and Crescent City is the better for it.

Another nice touch by the organizers was adding a sixth parade grand marshal, Sua Phia Lo, a captain in the Hmong Army that fought Communist forces in the Vietnam era. He cut a striking figure as the commander of a guerrilla unit in the 1966 photo on Saturday’s Northcoast Life page. And his inclusion was an appropriate gesture of appreciation to Del Norte’s Hmong community, the eldest of which migrated to America after Laos fell to the Communists in the ’70s.

A final note on Veterans Day 2013, Del Norte-style. We don’t print a lot of poetry in the Triplicate — in fact there’s a flat-out prohibition on it in letters to the editor. But I checked with the publisher and he was willing to make an exception.

Carolyn Westbrook wrote to me about her uncle, Glenn Spencer. Now a resident of Florida, he’s a former Del Norter who worked for Pacific Power and served on the School Board and the Draft Board.

Like many of the strong, silent types among our WWII vets, Glenn was reticent to share war stories, despite prodding from people like his niece. Carolyn was going through some old papers recently when she “found this poem he had written to me after I again had asked him about his experiences.”

He called it “New Guinea, Dec. 23, 1944,” and it’s an example of the WWII-era American mind-set of helping the oppressed:

I walk alone beside the sea

The wind and waves accompany me

In a tuneless dirge of sympathy

It’s lonely here tonight

We landed here short months ago

The battle is won against the foe

Tomorrow we leave to where I don’t know

So it’s pondering time tonight.

What of the Natives that inhabit this strand?

That helped us survive in this wild and wondrous land

Are they better or worse for the touch of our hand?

I worry for them tonight.

These random thoughts that cross my mind

I’ll try to put down in some kind of rhyme

To remember a people, a place, and a time

And now I will wish you a good night.

“In 1998 a tidal wave destroyed this beach in Papua and kindled many memories,” Carolyn wrote. “I would like to honor my uncle, Glenn Spencer, who is 94 this year and has lately been suffering from PTS.”

She closed with this, and so will I:

“Our war veterans deserve more than they get for the sacrifices they have made for our freedoms. Thank you and best wishes to all of them.”