There But For The Grace Of God

In World War II my father wanted to be a marine.  This did not come to pass:  but as with all volunteers in wartime, his offering of assistance did not go ignored.  The Navy took him.

He floated around San Diego on a troop ship, the U.S.S. Cullman – gray, fast and armed:  a nervous blueprint designed for defense against Germany’s submerged battalions.  His ship voyaged to and from the Pacific Theater, filled with shattered, seasick actors.

USS Cullman APA-78

This ocean is dense with locations that are still gilded with menace, ever since the war destroyed their reputations, and my father’s ship stopped at many of their ports.  And during the summer of 1945, they innocently skirted the malignant waters around Tinian island. 

When the U.S.S. Indianapolis was split into slivers by the Japanese submarine I-58, her remains were driven into a red delirium throughout these currents.  Days passed before Navy command noticed the loss, and rescue ships were then despatched from Ulithi, an atoll whose lagoon is jagged with dead war ships.  This was in early August – the U.S.S. Cullman was traversing these bitter islands less than a week before.   

If the Indianapolis’ objective had not been such a covert one, father’s ship could have been one of the first ones on that historic scene…I think of these twisted, stunning logistics often.  The image of sharks and submarines, twilight-colored menaces, lurking about the ship’s sides – close, familiar threats – is as piercing as the initial twitch of an earthquake. 

It is a vision of fear that held endless families in its devilish grip for years.  Many lost loved ones and feel that muscular thrall to this day.  This was such a close thing…and therefore I can’t help but think that there but for the grace of  God went my father:  to Tinian, to Guam, to China, to Midway, to the Marshall Islands, to Tokyo Harbor, to Pearl Harbor.  Many others did not come back, but they are not without grace either:   nor courage, nor audacity…buried deep and honored by continents and oceans, revered beneath unknown tombs.

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9 responses to “There But For The Grace Of God

  1. A lovely tribute to your father’s service in World War II.

    All of the members of my family who went to fight in each of the World Wars came back. Some with medals; all of them changed. Today, we remember not only those who were killed or wounded, but also those who spent the rest of their lives mentally damaged by the horrors they had lived or witnessed, as well as their families who had to live with their suffering. War is not just battles and bodies. Its consequences live on for generations.

  2. Hi,
    We will never forget those that have fought for our freedoms, as well as those that are still fighting.
    A lovely post.

  3. elizabethannewrites

    What a powerful, moving, heartfelt tribute, Aubrey. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for remembering and reminding, Aubrey– and for this lovely, moving post!

  5. A privilege to read you as always–lovely!

  6. it’s a perfect blog for Remembr\ance Day, graced with a personal touch

  7. A very thoughtful post – my father served during World War II as well. It seemed so random, who survived and who never returned… My dad has survivor guilt, as I’m sure many others do…

  8. You use words with an agility that pierces the soul and I admire you so much for it.

  9. I thought I’d left a comment here, but obviously not. I was greatly touched by this post – and in fact, got rather lost in it, which may explain forgetting to comment.

    For various reasons, I found this one of your best. Thank you.

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