When a letter in the mailbox means your son is still alive


 Memorial Day is set aside to honor fallen soldiers.

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season.

This week I worked on chapters for Memorial Day for my next novel, May His Tribe Increase. Elide ponders picnics and celebrations for the Day as he ponders how blessed he is to have all his brothers home safe. The War has casualties at home, too. And there are the lost limbs and something called shell-shock that many of the veterans suffered. I’m reviewing my grandfather’s memoir of what it was like to send his young son off to fight a War.

…Gene was in the navy and we would get a letter now and then. He was aboard the carrier Saratoga somewhere in the Pacific. I just can’t say how long he was in, but something was going on that we were not to know. Until one day, Dr. Granger let it slip that the Saratoga was hit by Japanese planes…

from the memoir of Frank N. Zyber (undated)

Dr. Granger was Grandpa’s brother-in-law. I’m not sure why he refers to as Dr. Granger. Maybe because of animosity kept barely under the surface. Or maybe it’s simply because Dr. Granger’s first name is Frank, just like Grandpa’s.

…[Dr. Granger] would say no more. It made us kind of uneasy and not long after that we got a letter from someone in Hawaii. It was from a buddy of Gene’s and it was quite difficult to get the meaning of it. Many words were blanked out, but it was enough to tell us that Gene was okay and we would be hearing from him before long. There was nothing said about the ship nor where Gene was, only it did sound like it was on the island. This did worry us considerably and we waited what seemed like several weeks and finally we did get a letter from Gene…

from the memoir of Frank N. Zyber (undated)

I try to put myself in the shoes of my grandparents during this time.

TOperation Magic Carpet, 1945. USS Saratoga (CV-3) sails back from Pearl Harbor for the United States with more than 3,500 returning discharges on board. Photograph released October 11, 1945. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2014/5/29).

With today’s texting, emails, and cell phones, added to 24-hour news coverage, it’s hard to imagine waiting for the postman to deliver information about the fate of my son. My Aunt Barbara, Dad’s sister, told me how they held their breath when the mailman delivered the mail. If he left it in the mailbox, her brothers were still alive. If he walked up the walk to deliver the mail to the door, everyone kew the worst news imaginable had arrived.

…[the letter] was from Seattle Washington and saying that his ship was damaged and they were in for repairs. Shortly after that, we got a letter from Bernard Granger. He said that Gene was in the navy hospital in Seattle for a check up and that Gene had a leave due him and would be coming home. That more or less did quiet us down and sure enough he did write and said that he was leaving there but not coming home. Instead, he was being shipped to a rest camp in Sun Valley, Idaho. He would not say for how long. At least we knew now that he was okay….

So as the time went by, we heard from Gene and the good news was that he was coming home on leave and would be here in a day or so. That was good news and for the next day or so, I would be at the station waiting for him when he would get off the Chicago train.

from the memoir of Frank N. Zyber (undated)

Can you imagine going to the train station every day waiting for your son to arrive?

The good news was that Gene was coming home. Although Grandpa did not put a date to this story, I think that Uncle Gene was on the USS Saratoga when it was attacked by kamikazes in the Battle of Iwo Jima. The Saratoga lost 123 men and 192 were injured during the Iwo Jima battle.

I keep reminding myself that Uncle Gene had not even finished high school when he enlisted.

skeeze / Pixabay (Iwo Jima monument)

More on Uncle Gene’s fate as Veteran’s Day approaches.

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