My dad went off to war as soon as he turned 18. He was 6’2″, and weighed about 130lbs. It was 1942, and times were still pretty tough in the years that followed the Great Depression. Three of his five brothers had already enlisted, and his sister was in the WAVES, leaving Dad to support his mother and youngest brother, waiting until he could proudly follow in their footsteps and serve his country as United States Marine.
After Dad enlisted in the Marine Corps, he was sent off to Camp Lejeune for basic training. He said he never ate so good in his life, so the occasional boot in the ass didn’t bother him much. He went in as a tall, skinny, kid and came out a big strong Marine. Until the last year, or so, Dad still said they made a man of him.
Just before bootcamp came to a close, Dad and a friend tore a dollar bill in half, each keeping a piece of it. They made a pact to meet up after the war was over, put that dollar together, and go have a beer or two.
Dad was sent to the Pacific theater. He was a sniper scout, (I believe that’s the right term). Over the next few years, he made his way through Guadalcanal, fought in the battle of Fonte Hill, on Guam, in the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Division. He was shot in the ankle which was, thankfully, his only injury. He felt very lucky to be alive, saying that was the most difficult battle he fought during his time in the war.
When it was all said and done, Dad was honorably discharged from the Corps. He went home to a young bride and settled into a good job. It wasn’t long before he began to look for his friend from bootcamp, looking forward to swapping stories over a couple of beers. But, in short time, he discovered that his friend had been killed in action.
Decades later, Dad pulled a small, worn, leather pouch out of his billfold. Inside of it was his half of that dollar. He told me the story and passed the half dollar on to me to show my children and pass on the story, so that maybe they could understand the truth about war.
I keep Dad’s solemn gift put away, but I’ve been faithful to tell the story to my sons, nieces and nephews, to my extra sons, and, now, to you. Because, though it’s not a unique story, as so many brothers in arms, since, have had the same experience, it is an important story. It’s a story of a young man’s admiration for the men, and woman, in his life who so proudly served. It’s about a young man who just knew he could find himself in the Marine Corps, and the Corps did not let him down. Lastly, it’s a story of the fragility of human life, represented by the torn half of a dollar bill, gently folded and treasured for 75 years.