Montana Outdoors

May 28, 2018

Memorial Day

Filed under: Writing — Tags: , , — montucky @ 10:36 am

It was cloudy and cold that day in the late fall of nineteen hundred and forty four as a small boy stood with his family on the windy concrete platform of the old Milwaukee railroad station in Missoula Montana awaiting the departure of the train bound for the west coast.

The boy of three-plus years stood at attention in his miniature green uniform, authentically made for him by his mother’s hands. On each collar of his jacket he proudly wore the Globe and Anchor of the United States Marine Corps.

A few feet away stood a tall young Marine also dressed in a crisp green uniform. On his collars were shiny gold bars: on the left side of his campaign cover was a Globe and Anchor, on the right another gold bar.

When departure time came, the young officer hugged his mother, shook his father’s hand and then shook the hand of his young brother, followed by a sharp salute, then turned and boarded the train. His destination, known to him but not to the family; the South Pacific.

It was a cold winter that year but also one filled with foreboding and anxiety as the news of the South Pacific Campaign slowly trickled back to the town. The boy knew that something very important was happening from some of the words he overheard spoken and from an occasional glimpse of his mother’s tears.

There were letters received by the family during that winter, sporadic and short, but ever so welcome. Then one afternoon, when spring was at the doorstep of western Montana a large black sedan pulled up to the curb in front of the family home. The boy could see the tears well up in his mother’s eyes but he was still too young to understand.

A Navy Commander accompanied by an aide emerged from the car and made their way up the walk to the front door. After a short introduction, the Commander made a short and emotional statement: “The Department of the Navy regrets to inform you that your son has been killed in action during the battle for Iwo Jima.”


There is much, much more to this story, but to put it briefly for now, the Department of the Navy is not always right. Several weeks later a letter came in the mail in the young officer’s shaky handwriting and postmarked from the US medical facility on Guam, where he was slowly recovering from massive wounds incurred on the morning of March twenty-sixth during the last battle on the island and on the day Iwo Jima was declared officially secure. He was more fortunate than thousands of his comrades about whom the brief messages from the Department of the Navy were correct.

(This is a re-do of a post I made in 2007, but today I felt it appropriate to post it again. I was the young boy and the young Marine officer was my older brother. The events of that time are still very fresh in my memory.)


  1. Nothing worse than the shock of that official visit followed up by what must have been a surreal moment when letter that letter arrived. Well said. Thanks for sharing the memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Malcolm R. Campbell — May 28, 2018 @ 11:13 am

    • The outcome was so much better for our family than for the families of the 6,000 men who died in that battle.

      Liked by 3 people

      Comment by montucky — May 28, 2018 @ 11:30 am

  2. War is such a tragedy all around. Your family was lucky and I’m sure all these military “holidays” have more meaning for you than they do for most, who haven’t had such close ties to war. Thanks for the re-blog of this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by wordsfromanneli — May 28, 2018 @ 12:01 pm

  3. I cannot give a like to this post, it seems such a trivial thing to do.
    A moving post, I salute your brother and absent friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by David A Lockwood — May 28, 2018 @ 12:28 pm

  4. Heart-tugging, thank you for reposting. I thank your brother and all who have served or are serving our country.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by bayphotosbydonna — May 28, 2018 @ 12:51 pm

  5. I’m glad your brother made it through. I’ve had to watch my Air Force sergeant son go off to the desert twice now, so it’s easy to imagine how your parents felt.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by New Hampshire Garden Solutions — May 28, 2018 @ 3:13 pm

    • I know that is Hell for the families. My brother died in 1964 from complications that developed from his wounds, but at least had twenty good years after the war. When I visited him near the end, I was wearing a Marine Corps uniform too and it was like a changing of the guard. We exchanged one last salute.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — May 28, 2018 @ 6:34 pm

  6. Thanks for sharing, Terry.
    Sometimes I think wars are worse for the families back home as that ‘not knowing’ drags on and on. Sad to hear that your brother eventually succumbed to his injuries, albeit many years later.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Vicki — May 28, 2018 @ 6:49 pm

    • I think that it’s worse for the families because they are constantly worried about what might happen. In the military you are most concerned with what is right in front of you.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — May 28, 2018 @ 6:53 pm

  7. I also thank your brother for his service, and was glad to hear he came home. My father was also in the Pacific during the war, and made it back home.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Lavinia Ross — May 28, 2018 @ 8:53 pm

    • We are among the lucky families! I deeply respect and appreciate all of those who served! On my hikes I still carry the lensatic compass that was in my brother’s pack on Iwo.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — May 28, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

  8. Montucky, your post literally gave me chills with tears in my eyes as I read it. I didn’t know you in 2007, so I had never read your post before, one so well-written and with such poignancy. I can’t even imagine the pain your family went through thinking your brother had been killed in action and then the jubilation when that letter arrived, knowing then he was alive!! What an amazing miracle. I remember how my family was on pins and needles when my brother-in-law was in Vietnam, but we were among the fortunate, he came back home in one piece. I am so in awe and proud of our military heroes. We can never, ever thank them enough!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Mama's Empty Nest — May 29, 2018 @ 9:04 am

    • It was fortunate that this story turned out as well as it did. There were five of us in my family who served in the Marine Corps and my brother-in-law served with the Navy during WWII, seeing action in the South Pacific. We were all proud to serve and thankful that we were able to..

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — May 29, 2018 @ 7:37 pm

  9. We must never forget.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by dhphotosite — May 29, 2018 @ 3:17 pm

  10. I’m a little behind in reading because I traveled over the holiday and still am not home, but this is a post that deserves reading on any day. Thank you for re-posting it. Those who choose to serve (including one of my family members who’s in the Navy) still show a level of dedication and commitment that’s as commendable as your brother’s.

    Of all the details that stood out, I was touched by your mention that you still use your brother’s compass. I suspect he showed you the way to go many times, and not only with a compass.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by shoreacres — May 29, 2018 @ 8:41 pm

    • When I carry that compass I feel as though part of my brother is with me. It has been used to orient my maps and plot courses many, many times over the years as I have carried it on thousands miles of back country trails. The memories are all good!


      Comment by montucky — May 29, 2018 @ 9:57 pm

  11. Very moved by this – thank you for sharing. Impossible to imagine how your mother must have felt, on both occasions. I count myself lucky that we live in a relatively peaceful time.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Jo Woolf — May 30, 2018 @ 3:10 am

  12. Thank you for sharing … I can’t imagine how your family must have felt. Such good news to know that he survived

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Julie@frogpondfarm — June 2, 2018 @ 8:02 pm

  13. Well, thank you for the brief look, Terry…there is always so much more in the stories we share here…so much of the richness of being alive, be that with heartache or happiness; it’s the stuff that informs and makes us.

    Thank you, again.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by seekraz — June 8, 2018 @ 8:09 pm

    • Yes, through those who blog I see some of the best people in the world and it’s good to know that people like them are still there and doing well.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — June 8, 2018 @ 9:01 pm

  14. That must have been one heck of an emotional roller coaster! My goodness – what a story. Thanks for directing my attention to it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by M.B. Henry — November 2, 2018 @ 5:15 pm

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