There wasn’t much active boating competition in Santa Monica Bay this past Memorial Day weekend.
While the major naval exercises weren’t in Marina del Rey over the holiday weekend, there were many Memorial Day observances in other parts of the country.
This past weekend, there were World War II observances on the Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal and over the English Channel.
We were immersed in Memorial Day remembrances tied to dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
As the nation’s capital signaled its summer-long tribute to those who had fought in WWII both abroad and at home, media joined in, including newspapers, and all of the various sections in the dailies, including the travel section. TV joined with news, commentary and movies concerning World War II.
A glutton for all the old black-and-white WWII movies, I indulged myself in the movie marathon with all those extraordinary naval and army battles being fought with the likes of young Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, William Holden, Richard Widmark, John Wayne, Dean Martin and Montgomery Cliff.
Many of these actors in the movies were the ages of most of the men who went to war.
“Twelve O’clock High,” “Enemy Below” and “The Young Lions.” The movies were in black in white, which added to the mythic drama.
Can you imagine “Stalag 17” in color?
Also can’t imagine getting in those flat-bottomed launches at 18 years of age, sloshing through the surf and scrambling up unknown beaches to face who knows what.
At one point on Memorial Day, 1962’s “The Longest Day” and the brand-new TV epic “Ike: Countdown to D-Day” were playing side by side. Somewhere along the line, thoughts and recollections of personal stories rose to preempt thoughts.
Last week, I wrote about Dad and his brothers. He had 11 siblings. The five brothers who were old enough all went to war. One sister was a nurse. My mother was a nurse. My parents were married three and a half years when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Strange about parallel lives.
Across the Atlantic, another resilient woman, destined to be Dad’s present wife of four years, was in her 20s when she and her new husband were picked up in Holland, loaded onto a railroad car and shipped to a concentration camp.
Her husband disappeared along with the rest of her family, who had been rounded up earlier.
Years before, as a young art student, she had lived in the same apartment building where Ann Frank and her family lived, and she recalls Ann as a noisy youngster running up and down the stairwell.
The day she celebrates is May 10th, 1945, the day the Americans arrived.
Another friend and his father, mother, sister and brother, were also rounded up — this time from Selma, California. Evacuated and confined to Japanese internment camps. The Kobashis and the Masudas. The father, born in Japan, was sent to a separate one. Meanwhile, his mother’s three Masuda brothers went off to fight in the war’s most decorated unit, the 442nd Infantry Regiment.
One died and two came home.
After the war’s conclusion, a general, I believe it was General Joseph Stilwell, personally brought the one uncle’s medal to their home in Orange County, where the eldest sister accepted it in the uncle’s name.
The husband of one of the sisters was an interpreter. Another sister was a nurse.
The most recent family entry into war is my nephew-in-law, Vic Huertas, who just came home from a year of Naval duty in Bahrain. It was too close to Iraq for comfort.
Most thought after WWII that the world might be cured of wars. Despite survivors bearing witness to the horrors of war, wars continue.
Ships were major players in wars since ancient times. “On Seas of Glory,” by former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, came in the mail other day. I hadn’t had time to read it, but the war movies with their naval battles prompted me to look up some of the big ones — which were in the middle of the book.
Pretty soon I found myself backing up to relearn what had happened to bring us to that point, then it was Pearl Harbor — with new factual revelations you might like to read about.
Next thing I knew, I was back building the Constitution out of live oak in 1794.
The live oak is important because that’s how “Old Ironsides” earned her nickname. In her most famous battle with Guerriere in 1812, the British frigate’s 24-pound cannonballs couldn’t penetrate the dense live oak hull. That was thanks to shipbuilder Joshua Humphreys, who had insisted on the expensive live oak.
Lehman called Humphreys “the most innovative and revolutionary designer of the age of sail.”
Walter Cronkite, Henry Kissinger and Admiral Holloway all call the book fascinating.
Much, much earlier, there was Troy. The ancient Greeks arrived at Troy with 1,000 ships, according to Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, about four days before the Trojan War.
It is still compelling — witness the latest “Troy” movie with the new generation’s Brad Pitt. From 1,000 ships to the individual battle to the death of the protagonists. The Trojans were defeated by the Greeks. Upon arriving back home, the Greeks were defeated by the Romans.
History starts to blend together. Prime Minister Winston Churchill says to Dwight D. Eisenhower, on taking on the job of supreme commander of the Allied Invasion in Europe, “No man in history has held such power, not Caesar, not Alexander, no man ever.”
Now the world returns to one of those arenas, Athens, in August for the Olympic Games.
Our best and brightest athletes will represent America and freedom in Athens at the Olympiad Games, Friday, August 13th, through Sunday, the 29th.
This time in individual and team feats of athleticism, instead of a huge armada of warships, we will send a fleet of 11 small craft, all under 28 feet.