You know you’re getting old when the faces at Veteran’s Day events look more and more like yourself and less and less like your parents. Obviously it’s the natural course of things, and yet there is an unmistakable poignancy in it all. As we bid adieu to the World War II generation I can imagine what my grandparents felt when only a handful of Civil War vets remained alive, fragile souls riding in flashy automobiles in parades of the 1930s.
My own family veteran’s story is much the same. Of my father and four uncles who served in The Big One, only my Uncle Ray lives on; ironically, as he had the closest call with death when forced to bail out of his flak-crippled B-24 over Italy in 1944.
This past weekend we held behind-the-scenes tours here at CHS, with the focus on veterans of the two World Wars and Korea. Among the items pulled for this event was a very personal display put together by Paul Weeks, Jr., of Mendocino, California. Paul wanted to find a way to honor his father and SIX of his father’s brothers, who served in World War II—and lived to return home to Thomaston. While many families boasted more than one son or daughter in World War II service, to have seven in the war was remarkable. Upon their return home the boys, dubbed “The Lucky Seven”, achieved some small measure of local celebrity before resuming their lives in civvies.
Paul’s efforts to recognize his family resonated with me. By the time he finished his display, only four of the seven remained alive, a painful but not unreasonable fact in this, the 21st century. While the items Paul pulled together directly represented only three of the brothers—Paul, Carlton (“Bud”) and Burt—they symbolize all seven.
Filling the back of the shadowbox display is a small Japanese flag, a Hinomaru (“Disk of the Sun”) captured by Marines on Saipan in 1944. Remarkably the flag, signed by the Marines, was then presented to Army Sergeant Bud Weeks, who fought with the 27th Army Infantry Division in the Marianas campaign. Given the ongoing rivalry—and frequent antagonism—between Marines and Army troops operating together in Pacific campaigns, Bud must have been quite a guy to have won over the Leathernecks! Meanwhile Paul’s dad, Paul Sr., is represented by a Coast Guard uniform, kerchief, dogtags and combat medical kit. During the war Paul found himself suddenly—and unexpectedly–transferred from the Navy to the Coast Guard, where he joined USCG Unit 211, one of several special construction groups establishing then top-secret LORAN (Long Range Navigation) stations across the Pacific. The third brother, Burt, was a Marine who saw fierce action in both the Marianas and Iwo Jima campaigns. A wartime photograph of Paul, Bud, and Burt, taken in Hawaii, completes the display.
About six years ago Paul decided that this family memorial, then hanging on a wall of his home, would better serve its purpose in a public collection closer to the family’s Connecticut roots. We chatted several times about his family and mine, emailed several more times, and finally arranged for the display’s safe transcontinental journey to CHS, where once again this Veteran’s Day, it serves as a touching reminder of personal sacrifice.