I’ve been planning to blog about Uncle Buck since last weekend, when I gathered with family and they gave me his yearbook. But other things to write about came up. So here it is, the birthday of the Marine Corps, and tomorrow is Veterans’ Day. And Uncle Buck was a Marine. Pacific Theater. WWII.
Good timing. Almost makes me believe in Divine Providence. Which I do believe in. Except when it comes to real life.
Years ago, one time when we were visiting his house, Uncle Buck handed me a red book. “This is the story of my unit in the Marines,” he said.
I should have realized what a big deal that was. Uncle Buck never talked about the war. Never.
I looked at the book for a while, but didn’t get much out of it. I’ve felt guilty about that ever since. Especially since he died of cancer in 1978.
Last Saturday, when I went down to Faribault for the burial of Uncle George and Aunt Martha, I was given the red book. It turns out to be pretty much what it looks like—a school yearbook. Only the school was Marine boot camp.
And it leaves me pretty much as ignorant as I was before.
I asked an aunt on Saturday, “Do you know where Buck fought in the Pacific? What battles he was in?”
She thought a second and said, “No, I really don’t. He didn’t talk about it much. I think he might have been at Wake Island. But they kept him out of some of the fighting because he’d gotten that Dear John letter. So he wasn’t in all the battles with his unit.”
The yearbook doesn’t help. I really shouldn’t have felt guilty about not getting much from it when he showed it to me. The name of the unit was the 9th Replacement Battalion. They trained at Camp Elliott, near San Diego in 1943. I can find no mention of them on the internet. For all I know they were dispersed to existing battalions after finishing their training.
Uncle Buck is still a mystery.
I remember him as a tough guy. A quiet man who never knew what to say to kids (never had any of his own), and who drank and smoked a lot. If I remember the story correctly, he met a girl in Australia while in the Pacific and got engaged to her. Then she sent him a Dear John letter, as mentioned above. He saw combat—somewhere. Eventually he contracted malaria and was discharged. He had recurrences of the malaria for the rest of his life. After the war he married a girl my grandfather didn’t like, converting to Catholicism to marry her. Everyone agreed he was a different man after the war than he’d been before.
We tell stories about our warriors. We make movies about them; build statues. We try to preserve some memorial, to let them know that we understand that they lost something they can never get back for the sake of the rest of us.
But we can’t really know. All we can do is say thanks, and give them what honor we can.
Semper Fi, Uncle Buck.
To all you veterans, thanks.