Veteran's Day

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It being Veteran’s Day and all, I was thinking about my parents. Neither one of them were natural soldiers or heroes in any traditional and conventional sense of that word, but like practically everyone else of that generation, the Monday morning after Pearl Harbor, my father went down to enlist in the Navy, and my mother followed suit shortly after.

My father had dreams of being a frogman (the precursors to today’s Seals) because of his swimming ability. Fortunately, an accident in training blew out one of his ear drums and he spent the war serving as a lieutenant on transport ships; otherwise, I almost certainly wouldn’t be here today, since my father was almost as ill-equipped to be a military man as his feckless son.

My mother managed to get a top-secret job on the Navy intelligence team that finally broke the Japanese code. There was no such thing as a computer in those days, and the team consisted of an eclectic assortment of civilians—mathematicians, housewives, schoolteachers, men too old or unfit to serve elsewhere—who shared a common ability for finding patterns in random groupings of words and numbers. She never once spoke of it until the day I just happened to home visiting and just happened to pick up the mail for her. There was a letter to her from the Department of the Navy, but even when I queried her, she dismissed it all by showing me a few simple cryptograms and telling a few anecdotes of some her fellow team members. (One of those, incidentally, was a British Naval Officer who went on to serve at Bletchley Park, where the first computer was invented by Alan Turing, an incident made famous by the recent movie, The Imitation Game.)

They were ordinary people, my extraordinary parents, but they were members of the greatest generation, made great by time and circumstances they would have preferred not to have known. They, and all the courageous men and women who serve in uniform today, deserve to be remembered with gratitude, and to be emulated.

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