WWII Corsair footage coming up in my YouTube “suggested” feed went unwatched until a priest friend texted the same video to me. “Be nostalgic! Do it now!” That made me nostalgic, of course. I like to brag about dad and his medals from the USMC and Dept of the Navy, the Army, various nations. This is my way of supporting the military. But something has been lacking in this support. I should be more fulsome in reporting about my dad. In this way, I can brag about him even more.
To lead into that account on dad’s military alcoholism, let’s try to understand how he got there. Context is everything, as is the solution. So back to his medals, particularly a few of the citations, which recount a hell of a lot of violence:
Just weeks later, days and days after Japan was not surrendering, calling the bluff of Little Boy and Fat Man, dad would be working with Minoru Wada to take out the communications and command post of Japan in the Philippines, instantly forcing Japan to surrender, just as Douglas MacArthur had predicted.
That’s the stick of bombs that did the trick in the background, the stick of bombs that dad would point out to me with such enthusiasm throughout my childhood. I knew it was him flying that bomber with that stick of bombs. Minoru Wada, POW but an American citizen (long story) was the navigator in the foreground. We had pictures of Minoru Wada up throughout the house, also together with my dad. They’re hanging up in the rectory in front of me right now.
I’ve bragged a lot about dad in the past, putting up pictures of his multiple Distinguished Navy Service Medals, his multiple Distinguished Flying Crosses, his Purple Heart, his fistful of Air Medals, and truckloads of other medals, but that doesn’t quite capture what he was going through personally.
Here are two more citations for his three DFCs. Lots and lots of death. That makes an impact.
I was once able to peruse dad’s log books not only detailing logistics of hundreds and hundreds of sorties, but also including his super idealistic and super patriotic dreams for future political service back Stateside. I was very taken also to read vivid, poetic descriptions of the faces of Korean rice-farmers during low-level approaches he was flying so as to take out communist munitions trains and the bridges they were using.
That’s dad at the fold of the wing of a fighter attack corsair of the Checkerboard Squadron 312 that he commanded after graduating from VLMB 611 to move on from Guam and the Philippines to Japan, China, Korea and mapping out the future air campaign for Vietnam.
In those log books he also briefly detailed some of his drinking sessions, with whom and where, with names having a significance for these wars that I cannot now decipher. These are not now in my possession.
Meanwhile, here’s part of a conversation I had with a Vet of 28 years yesterday after daily Mass:
- Me: Guys often learn to drink during their time in the military.
- Him: Yes. They do.
- Me: Amounts of liquor are often proportional to how many of your own guys were killed and then, in response, how many enemy combatants you’ve done in, and then, also in proportion to the comradery you have in plotting out further solutions, drinks in hand.
- Him: Correct.
Anyway, as you can see from the citations above, describing just a few sorties amongst hundreds and hundreds, there was likely more adrenaline flowing than any liquor later on, the liquor diluting the adrenaline only slightly. You’re out of bed and in the plane flying a nanosecond after you hear this, gallons of adrenaline flowing again:
Dad became a military alcoholic. And he continued to be that in my youngest years.
But here’s why this is actually the source of my greatest bragging about him.
There was one particular Ash Wednesday that he gave up his smoking and drinking cold turkey, taking up sugarless hard candies and going to daily Mass. And he stuck to it. Did he struggle? Yes. Did he seek help in spiritual direction from priests? Yes. He wasn’t just overcoming drinking, he was facing, again, all the violence that he was entirely personally involved in, more violence than many towns will collectively see in a lifetime.
Meanwhile, he would bring me to daily Mass as a little kid, when I was a teenager, when I was a seminarian back home for the Summer.
My dad, the military alcoholic, totally my hero. Because, in being pointed to Jesus, he pointed me to Jesus.
So, what’s it been like being the son of a military alcoholic? I love being the son of my father.
I’ve never hidden that my dad was a military alcoholic. I’ve never denied this, suppressed this. No. It’s the other way around. I’ve striven to follow his good example. How accepting people were of that is another story for another post. But for now, thanks, dad. The world thanks you. Rest in peace.
Here’s Part 2 of this series, with Part 2 about how yours truly has striven to follow my dad’s good example:
Son of my military-alcoholic dad: striving to follow his good example
One response to “Dad’s alcoholism as USMC bomber & fighter attack pilot. Be nostalgic! Do it now!”
My mother’s older brother Bill was career Army, and was in the Korean War in his early 20s, often behind enemy lines. When he returned home, it was sometimes her job to wake him up for work. He would immediately reach for his gun and point it at the “threat”…her.
Not the most pleasant task.
The constant adrenaline/hyper-vigilance needed for active battle operations is real and adaptive. Very tough to return to anything “normal”, but my uncle later tried to help others in that ‘re-entry period’, establishing interim housing for the new veterans.
Honestly, I don’t know how people do it. Grace, probably. Lots and lots of Grace.