On October 3rd, 1945, the USS Pope, a navy transport ship, arrives at the pier in San Francisco Bay. Aboard were troops that have served in the Pacific War against Japan. Some troops hopped from island to island toward Japan. These men had experienced many hardships that made them weary with battle fatigue. Also among them were about 200 Ex-POW’s that fought in the Philippines. A few that had survived the horrors of “The Bataan Death March”, Camp O’Donnell, plus many other slave labor camps in the Philippines. Some were shipped to Japan where many were slave laborers and were beaten, starved, disgraced and lost many of their dear friends at the hands of a brutal nation that had no respect for any human that opposed their imperialistic doctrine. Their desire to capture all of the Far East nations and put them under their control, enabling them to enslave all people captured for the purpose of developing vast raw materials that were underdeveloped at that time. The same as they did to Korea, China and Manchuria.
To look at these men, it would be impossible to understand how they were affected by what the war had done to them, not to mention how it would affect their lives and loved ones awaiting their return. Most of these men were average Americans that were drafted or joined the service of their choice and then trained to go to combat in a very brutal war.
Most of them never gave it a thought that killing a human being would be expected of them and when that time came they stepped up beside their fellow soldiers and looked down the barrel of his rifle and pulled the trigger and watched a person unknown to him fall dead. At that point, his life was changed forever. Some took it with pride, some felt remorse, but few knew at that point how the first time they killed would affect their lives forever. As they faced battle after battle and the more they witnessed death, the same feeling came over them when they pulled the trigger the first time. Some even got joy out of killing the enemy.
Looking at the faces on these men on the USS Pope, anyone who had experienced the same could almost read in their faces the horrors they had faced and experienced. Their faces were like a map showing how they felt, but when you talk to them they would give you the impression that everything with them was all right.
Now they are back to the good old USA. Most wanted to return to a normal life, picking up where they left off four or five years ago not realizing that America had changed. Their loved ones who were waiting for their arrival and had no idea or understanding of what they had been through. Some wanted to shut the memories out and not say a word about it to anyone, others told stories that were hard for anyone to believe, but underneath, hidden inside their minds, most all of the men were realizing that getting back to normal was impossible.
Many of these men faced wives that had no understanding or any patience with their behavior. The drinking, short tempers, nightmares that caused them to become uncontrollable, yelling, and fighting someone who was not there. Any loud noise, bump or light touch would trigger such a violent reaction that even family members questioned their sanity. Many of these men faced divorce, adding to their feelings of rejection. While dealing with all these problems, many men developed a certain pattern of drinking, and not caring about themselves that resulted in many health problems, blaming others for their feelings, not thinking that it could be them who needed help, which at the time was hard to find. Most did not want to admit they needed to see a psychiatrist in order to deal with these embedded emotions. Being known as a nut would limit one’s ability to be able to get a job and support his family. Some men drifted away from society and became homeless drunks that no one wanted to take the time to help. They became known as “old veterans,” this nation rejected.
These particular men fought some of the difficult battles of WWII which helped the world from becoming slaves to Hitler and Togo. They wore the battle scars on their faces as they returned to a nation that was grateful. A nation soon forgot these veterans’ needs. Some adjusted and were very successful in their lives. Some men would never forget the cost of freedom paid by our best soldiers, who died being known to the general public only as “another old veteran”. Some of these old veterans stood in battle as the best soldiers that never wavered or retreated in their most brutal battle of all. They may have been the very one who led their platoon to safety and saved other soldiers’ lives. Some saw so much that they could not bear to talk about their stories of their part in the war since it was painful to relive those unpleasant memories that would come from their thoughts and soul.
Standing on the deck of the USS Pope, we were finally under the Golden Gate Bridge; I could see some the horrors reflected on their faces. At that time, I had no answers to the questions that these men faced in the future. It made me see and understand more that you had to walk in the shoes of those old veterans to completely grasp their pain, because I was one of those POW’s on board the USS Pope. I also went through the Battle of Bataan, and then the Bataan Death March and through five different slave labor camps, so I can say, “I have been there and done that and I have the t-shirt.”
It is so easy for us to pass judgment on people that you do not know their backgrounds that have fallen into the category of “old veterans”. As I see homeless or misfortunate people, I try to have compassion and understanding and a desire to help them, because it gives me great pleasure and healing from some of the pain I have had to suffer.
America is now in another war, unlike WWII. Many of the men and women that are in harms way could be your next door neighbor, a reservist or a National Guardsman. Some of the returning soldiers today will also face many of the same emotions from their experiences, as our brave men have also faced before. They can tell you how it feels to stand with their gun pointed at and killing of a human being. Also facing whatever he or she feels inside, which is brought back, some of the emotions that soldiers have faced in previous wars. Americans should put forth every effort to understand these returning veterans. Don’t be so quick to judge or condemn these new veterans of today. As they return home from war, from fighting against the terrorist that threaten our very lifestyle. It is now our turn to give to these men and women. When a person gives their life for their country, we call that the ultimate sacrifice, but when a soldier comes back facing these types of problems that is what I call the enduring sacrifice.
May we all take a few minutes to honor these brave men and women that are standing in the gap for us in Iraq. May God bless them and their families, may we all give thanks for our freedom in America that is not free and has been paid in full by the blood of many Americans that have stepped forward to protect it with their lives. When you see Old Glory flying, may it remind you of our past. If flies as a symbol of our freedom, that we must protect it against any effort by anyone or nation that wishes to destroy it. Long live America and long live our freedom!