Dad’s Purple Heart
Later in my father’s life, I thought it would be a good thing to make a shadow box to display the medals that he received in WWII. After contacting the VA, we got a set of medals and built the display for a Christmas present in 2004.
Dad had told us many stories about being in the Navy as a Torpedo-man aboard a PT Boat tender in the South Pacific. The story-telling became an important part of our camping trips as well. Soon as dinner was over and we had made our last s’mores of the evening, we would turn to dad and ask about what he had done during the war.
He would sit back and think for bit and then get into some of the stories that would make me think that there was no way that some of the things he told us about could be true. But they were still all fun to hear.
One story in particular always stuck in my mind. It was about a Kamikaze attack on his ship and how he got his first Purple Heart. I was the oldest of the four siblings, so I tended to remember more than my brothers and sister did. On one of our camping trips to the Oregon coast, dad started to tell some stories that I am sure my mom was unaware of. He started to tell the story about how he did not have his first Purple Heart Medal from the war. When dad abruptly stopped and stood up, we could all sense that story time was over and could tell that it was probably the best time to go to bed.
Dad had told the story on the previous camping tip of how he was wounded the first time. There was not much call for a Torpedo-man to assemble a torpedo during battle stations. So he was part of the on-deck crew firing an anti-aircraft gun when a Kamikaze was bearing down on his ship. It was heading right at his section of the ship when they managed to fire at the last possible moment and cut the left wing off the plane. The Kamikaze spiraled into the water forty feet from the side of the ship and exploded. A thousand pound bomb exploded forty feet away from the side of his ship. The entire ship rocked to one side and dad was hit by some shrapnel and had his left hand smashed to bits. At the time of the attack, there were ten or so PT Boats tethered to his ship. Somehow only one of the boats received any damage.
In 2005, I took dad to see the PT Boat restoration going on in Portland Oregon. We went for a ride on the boat and listened to all of the stories that the Veterans were more than willing to tell. One man there that day seemed to recognize dad for some reason. Being a Torpedo-man, dad had been on most of the PT Boats loading and arming torpedoes. This Veteran was on one of the PT Boats during the Kamikaze attack. He and Dad traded stories for a while, and I had to ask what it was like to have thousand pound bomb go off forty yards away? Both he and dad said almost at the same time, “No, it was forty feet”. The bomb had gone off just below the surface of the water, stowed in the side of dad’s ship, and flipped one of the PT Boats over. All of a sudden the stories that dad had told us about his times in the navy were all true.
It was many years later when Dad finished the story of not having his first Purple Heart and a few days after we had given him the shadow box with his medals. He had confided with me that he gave back his Purple Heart so the Captain could pin it on the chest of his fellow Torpedo-man they were about to bury at sea. They were short of medals at the time. He was not the only one that returned their medals to honor their shipmates so highly, Dad’s first medal rests eternally with his shipmate and fellow Torpedo-man.
My father confided some of the demons that he lived with in his life after WWII. They included what happened to his fellow Torpedo-man, firing a torpedo from a PT Boat himself that sank a Japanize destroyer, and getting blown off the same PT Boat trying to get away, just to name a few. The one thing that I will remember for the rest of my life, was that dad told me that there wasn’t a single story that he told my family that was made up.