The internet is a miracle that I really do not understand and which I will probably never take for granted. 19th century folks may have regarded the telephone with the same awe. A few days after Easter I came to understand what powerful tools are now a click away. These are the facts that I found.
- After war was declared in December 1941, my father enlisted in the United States Navy at the age of 31. For two years, he was stationed at the Naval Training Center, Sampson, New York. During this time he courted my mother long distance, meeting in New York City or at home in Rhode Island on leave.
- After his wedding to my mother on November 4, 1944, my father reported for duty in Washington State to serve as a member of the original crew of the USS Hilarity, a minesweeper.
- After training in Southern California near Catalina Island, the ship sailed to Hawaii, arriving on February 10, 1945, where they engaged in more training exercises. On February 17, 1945 she embarked for the North Central Pacific, stopping at Eniwetok and Saipan before arriving at Okinawa on May 29, 1945.
- The Battle for Okinawa had begun on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945. It would not end until mid-July. My father’s small ship (184′ in length) joined 1600 other vessels for what was the last battle of WWII.
- The objective was to take Okinawa, located 70 miles off the coast of Japan, and there, to prepare for the invasion of the Homeland Islands.
- There would be no invasion. Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August. The USS Hilarity then proceeded to sweep mines from Korean and Japanese waters.
- My father was sent home sometime in September, according to the Oct. 1, 1945 Muster Rolls of his ship.
- He arrived in Rhode Island as the leaves were falling from the trees.
- I was born on August 11, 1946.
Until a few days ago, I knew almost nothing of this story. My father died in the Davis Park VA Hospital, service connected, on January 12, 1953. He had been sick since he returned home, but the family spoke very little of him and over the years, the various narratives of his service and the description of the injuries he had sustained became loose and strangely tangled. For example, I was told he served on Guam. Much later, an elderly relative put together a pastiche of memories that portrayed my father in an unfavorable light. This narrative, at least concerning his naval service, was altogether inaccurate. It was told to wound me and it did. In a very real sense, I lost my father twice, first when I was six years old, and then again in my late fifties. By the grace of God and the intricate web of information now available, I have found him again. His face in a photograph standing on the deck, his service number on a handwritten form, his valor displayed in numerous accounts of the daily peril a minesweeper such as the Hilarity endured off Okinawa in those terrible days, these have been found at last.
In the coming days, I hope to use this new lens to search for what else has been lost.