Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day Tribute

In Syracuse, N.Y., a citizens' memory board is filled with loving and respectful memories of all men and women who have served our nation.

No Mama-No Papa-No Uncle Sam:

A Veterans' Day Tribute to my Uncle Paul Nagurney
To Paul: a Veteran; a Patriot; a Great Man

"It is wrong to place our military in harm's way and not support them.
May God forgive those who did so in Bataan, and may God forgive those who forget the sacrifices of Bataan,
and those other Americans who rest here."

Maj. Richard M. Gordon (USA Ret.) Adjutant,
Battling Bastards of Bataan
Remarks at the Manila American Cemetery
at Ft. Bonifacio, Makati, Manila, Philippines, April 2, 2002
The late Senator Inouye, Senator Stevens, Ambassador Ricciardone in attendance

On this Veteran's day I wish to thank my Great Uncle Paul who died in 1981 at the age of 67...and whose sacrifices and stories I will not forget.

He was a survivor of the Bataan Death March of WWII.

He served 20 years with the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.

He was wounded December 10, 1941 while stationed at Nichols Field in the Phillipines.

He was evacuated to Bataan and then to Corregidor.
When Corregidor fell to the Japanese, he was taken prisoner.

He survived the Bataan Death March, thanks to his sheer will and a secret stash of quinine, which he shared with others to
help sustain them.

Hundreds of Americans died or were killed in that Death March.

Uncle Paul survived over three more years imprisonment by the Japanese. He was later awarded the American Defense Service Medal with a bronze star, a Distinguished Unit Badge with two oak-leaf clusters, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with a bronze star, the WWII Victory Medal, the Purple Heart, and the Phillipine Defense Ribbon with a bronze star.

"Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides tells one of the best stories about the Bataan incident.
Fourth Marine Mel Sheya, a Bataan survivor, wrote a first-hand accounting of Bataan in "The Battling Bastards of Bataan".
I am lucky enough to have an autographed copy of the book.

In one section of the book, Sheya writes:

"In our short stay at Cabanatuan, we had seen our comrades face the firing squad, hundreds die from dysentery, malaria, malnutrition, and shot by guerillas who were after the Japs.
When we left, the camp was in a precarious state, for many
men were lying around about to die. The camp looked more like a graveyard than a prison camp. Men weighed from sixty to eighty pounds and were unable to hold anything on their stomachs.
We bid them adieu, knowing that soon many would be buried.
Some of the dying would give buddies their sentimental valuables and ask them to give them to their wives or families when Uncle Sam liberated us.
The time for departure came and we lined up ready to march.
You wouldn't realize men could become so close in friendship until you could see the tears shed by the men whose close friends were leaving...."

He also wrote:

"Many nights I would dream of Mom and the friends I would love to see, then I would be awakened by the sobbing of some boy that was less fortunate than I in concealing his emotions. There was alwas some one of us prepared to comfort and try to console these men that were still human enough to cry..."

"Old Glory, to me, really means the flag of freedom and democracy.
May it forever fly proudly.
Damn the men that ever try to depreciate it."
Mr Sheya and my Uncle survived a living hell in captivity for
42 months under the Japanese. Corregidor was not only the bloodiest battle in the WWII Pacific, but was possibly the worst form of defeat ever inflicted in the U.S. armed forces.

There were very dark moments when these prisoners would feel they were forgotten and abandoned by the American generals. Lorcha Dock was where General MacArthur (realizing too late that he had spread his troops too thinly) uttered the words "I Shall Return", before departing for Australia. He had ordered a general retreat of his troops on Luzon to the Bataan Peninsula on the western side of Manila Bay. The American and Philippine Army troops scattered across eight of the other large Philippine islands were abandoned to the Japanese.

In a most human sense, how might YOU have felt if you were one of those left behind?

Uncle Paul learned that, when all is said and done, we only have ourselves on which to rely upon for our own survival.
He was not angry at his nation for what happened to him.
He held no grudge.
He believed in the cause of true American democracy and freedom.

Yes, through it all, my Uncle Paul loved America for what he believed she stood for.
Freedom and democracy.
I learned many important lessons from Uncle Paul through the years I was lucky enough to have his
company and his counsel.
His thoughts, his patriotic love run through me and through all the words you see here on this page.

I intend, as long as I live, to never let his memory die and I will turn my ears and heart away from any contemporary political leader (hack) who tells me to just shut up about a troubled war in which our nation is engaged. Why? Because it's not for myself that I speak, it's for our Constitution - and especially for the sanctity of the very lives and souls of the very men and woman who risk all their earthly ties to serve the U.S. Constitution and the people of this nation.


Laurie said...

My old landlord was a POW in Corregidor. My father was a captain in the Philippines and New Guinea. He wouldn't talk about the war, though. They both seemed very scarred by their experiences.

Iddybud said...

Yes, the soul scarring is something you can sometimes see in their eyes. When I think back on it, my Uncle Paul must have summoned up a lot of old ghosts when he'd choose to talk about some of his experiences. I always felt that there were a lot more untold stories that we never got to hear because children wouldn't know how to process such horror - just as he probably never quite knew how to deal with it. I think, because two of my uncles were POWS during WWII, I have learned enough from the stories they were willing to tell to be able to empathize with the young vets coming back from Afghanistan and especially Iraq today.

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