Me: “Mom, I’m joining the Marine Corps.”
Mom: “No! You will not. The *#!! Marines ruined your Uncle Johnny. I hate the Marine Corps. No!”
Today is Sept. 2, the day in 1945 when Japan formally surrendered aboard the USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. This is one of the three days sometimes referred to as V-J Day — Victory over Japan Day. That victory came at a huge cost. Over 400,000 Americans died in the war, and almost 700,000 were wounded. And untold numbers of family members had their lives forever changed.
I have become very thoughtful as Sept. 2 approached. The last three years have brought many changes to my family, and to myself, molded by grief and loss from the loss of our son Bryan in Niger in October 2017. We are not the same. I am not the same. My awareness of pain and loss and sacrifice is heightened. Which is why V-J Day has much meaning for me, and also because WW II deeply impacted my family. Although faith, hope and love in the Lord Jesus Christ will always win in the end, I have wept much over memories of people lost and dreams shattered.
My grandfather, Giuseppe Settipane, immigrated from Italy in 1892. On Jan. 21, 1908, my grandfather applied for a U.S. passport. At the bottom of his passport application are these words:
“Further, I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic: that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same: and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion: So Help Me God.”
Little did my grandfather know how much his taking that oath would cost his family.
My grandfather had 10 children with his wife Angelina. Six sons and four daughters. One son, Frank, died in 1938. His five remaining sons, my uncles, all fought in WW II. Three returned home. One came back but never came home. One never returned.
I have thought much of, and am thankful for, all five of my uncles. In particular, I have thought of the two uncles I grew up around, my Uncles Mike and Johnny, and I have thought of the uncle who never returned, my Uncle Tony.
On Jan. 21, 1945, Uncle Tony was killed in action during the Battle of Luzon in the Philippines while fighting with the U.S. Army’s 169th Regiment. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. He left behind a young wife.
Uncle Mike fought with the Army in the Pacific and European theaters. I saw much of Uncle Mike while growing up. A wonderful, powerful man with great compassion. He only talked to me once about the war, in a moment when a program on Japan broke open his soul: With much emotion, in a quick sentence, he related how his brother Tony had been killed, and how he hated those he had fought against because of what they had done. In all the years I knew Uncle Mike, that was the only time I heard him speak about the war. Uncle Mike passed away in 2004, having lived a rich, full life.
Uncle Johnny was in the Marine Corp during the war. I saw him often when I was growing up, but he never spoke about what he had gone through. In fact, Uncle Johnny spoke very little about anything. Because Uncle Johnny never recovered from what he had experienced and seen, carrying deep scars in his soul that rendered him unable to work or function normally for the rest of his life. After the war, Uncle Mike took Johnny into his home, and cared for him for the rest of his life. Uncle Johnny passed away in 1983.
I think my uncles are symbolic of so many that fought in WW II and other wars: Uncle Tony of those who never came home. Uncle Johnny of those who returned but never really came home, shattered by memories no one should have to bear. Uncle Mike of those who came home, put the horrors of war behind them, and lived great, productive lives. And I think my mom, who carried deep resentment for that which she believed shattered the life of my Uncle Johnny, is symbolic of the scars carried by many of the family members of those wounded or lost.
All my uncles are gone now. And my mom passed away in 1987. But I remember them all. And I love them, and thank them for who they were and for what they did.
My uncles, with every ounce of their strength, kept the oath that first their father swore to, and to which each of them then swore to uphold before they left family and loved ones to spend years fighting a true existential threat. Their actions reflected their total dedication to supporting and defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I am deeply grateful for them, and proud of them.
Until the resurrection in our Lord Jesus Christ, rest in peace, uncles.
Henry Black is a retired Marine Corps major. His son, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, a Special Forces medic, was one of the four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger in October 2017. Black is currently an analyst for the FBI and lives in Washington state with his wife, two daughters-in-law, one son and four grandchildren.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.