GLENN WENT TO WAR AND BOB CAME HOME
By the time I was born, my half-brother Glenn’s life was turned upside down. Our mother Harriett married my father Arley during his senior year of high school and they moved to his home. After so many years as an only child cared for by his widowed mother, his Grandmother Cate and Aunt Della, the change must have been traumatic. He was thrilled to have a baby sister a few years later!
College seemed out of the question for financial reasons and war was imminent. He first joined the Civilian Conservation Corps for a year or two and then was drafted as a Private in the U.S. Army. He became a medic and spent over three years in the Pacific theater. He wrote long, detailed letters to his mother, Aunt Della and other family members. Mother kept every letter—often riddled with holes where censors cut out words that might reveal his location—in an old black purse.
The Pacific theater covered one-third of the globe, and he spent much of the time in the tropics and jungles, with extreme heat, rain and insects. The combat soldiers in the Pacific usually spent longer times overseas than those in Europe—and Glenn never had a single furlough. He was in battles at Saipan Island, Okinawa, the Marshall Islands and others.
His letters show his discouragement and loneliness. And yet in the horror of all he experienced, he felt compassion for the enemy too. As was the norm during the war, he refers to them as “Japs” but sees them as suffering fellow human beings. In 1944, he wrote about the horrors of the fighting on Saipan Island. “…we were 200 yds behind the front lines and worked all day under fire…received a commendation from the Colonel…Even the women were fighting—one woman sniper was brought in…she had on a uniform and sneaker shoes and had a tight band around her breasts so she would look like a man…One old Jap woman was captured and came through—she didn’t even have clothes but she had a box she was holding on to—in it was a picture of her son who was a soldier. Well, Mother, I thought of you and I said ‘I know my mother would be the same way’…all you can have is pity for the heartbreaks of war. Surely they have the same feelings as all humans of flesh have.”
His best friend in his company was killed at Saipan. He wrote, “War comes close to you when you see a dog tag on a white cross that you’ve picked up a dozen times in the shower and found on the floor or hanging on the bed. Only hope I can bring mine home with me if I get to come home.”
In December, 1944, he tried to imagine what it would be like if and when he returned. “Maybe you won’t understand me—I’ve changed so much—I’ll be like a stranger in a foreign land. Maybe I haven’t a place where I’d fit in anymore—who knows…I don’t look like the boy you kissed good-bye so long ago. But Mother please be kind—I’m nervous and easily turn moody and my emotions aren’t all they once were. Most of the normal human emotions have been warped and died one way or another.”
It was as he imagined. He returned home in 1945, thin with graying hair, nervous, chain- smoking cigarettes, and often drinking to block out painful wartime memories. Also, he asked us to call him Bob and not Glenn. The Army had called him by his first name—Robert or Bob. Glenn did not come home after all.