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.
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.