The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Memorial Day: a day for Remembrance and reflection


May 22, 2019

My father, David J Clowes, died in 2016 at the age of 85. He did not die in the Korean War. He served as a gunner's mate on the USS Walton, serving in the Formosa Sea during the Korean War. He would often tell stories about his buddies or tell stories that were funny. One time when he had KP duty they had made a huge pot of stew. He had to carry it down below the kitchen to the Mess Deck where the sailors all waited to chew down. He had to maneuver a ladder going down and just when he started down the USS Walton was hit by a wave and it rocked the boat. My dad lost his balance and fell down the stairs with the stew falling out of the kettle. My dad covered with stew looked up at the crew, picked up the pot, with about only two inches of stew still in the pot, dumped it upside down and yelled "come and get it!" No meal was served that hour.

My dad always had a US flag flying in his yard. He was always proud to say he was patriotic when patriotism wasn't popular. He would stand at attention with tears in his eyes every time the flag would go by or the National Anthem played. Onetime he was especially teary and he just wiped his eyes and said, "I remember." During the last years of his life and suffering from Alzheimer he tried frantically to protect his wife from the Communist Chinese. At the last, just hours before he died, he was excited to see his old Navy buddies sharing a tall one with them. "It's been a long time since we've drank together. Hey, you did get permission from your wives didn't you." I listened to my dad and watched his reaction to his Navy friends only he could see.

He never did share much with any of his children, what it was like on the USS Walton. He told a story once of going to shore only to be surrounded by dead bodies and the trinkets he bought smelled like death. He threw them away. Just days before he passed away, I asked him and he looked at me with tears and some anger and said, "My job was to watch the shore through binoculars and make sure our bombs hit their targets. I watch mommies and babies and children get blown to bits. Is that something you want me to talk about!!" And humbly and quietly I said, "No." So, although he never really talked about his experience, he lived it every day of his life. I looked up the USS Walton and discovered that "during her patrols, the destroyer escort fired over 2,000 rounds of 5-inch (130 mm) ammunition at shore targets, provided close gunfire support for minesweeping operations; worked in conjunction with carrier strikes on coastal targets, and, during the latter operations, rescued a ditched Navy pilot. On one occasion, the ship sent a raiding party to reconnoiter a harbor on the far northern coast of Korea. Enemy machine guns opened up on the party, but a heavy fusillade from Walton's small boat silenced the gunners."

There is some discussion of when Memorial Day started and for the sake of this article we will go with the prevailing conclusion. Memorial Day started during the Civil War where 620,000 died. The impact to our country was enormous and the women started to decorate the graves of the soldiers that had fallen. It was first called Decoration Day and didn't become officially Memorial Day until 1967. It was originally set aside to remember the soldiers who died in defense of our country. In recent years, it has included any soldier who has passed away.

In Flanders Fields was written by John McCrae in memory of his friend who was just killed in battle. We need to remember.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.


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