The Memorial

by Harry T. Roman


[This is dedicated to all the brave sons of Newark past and present, who answered the country's call to service. May their courage, bravery, and personal sacrifices serve as a vivid reminder that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.]


"Hey Hon, pick up the phone, it's your baby brother!"

Since I don't have any brothers, it could be nobody else but my good friend and fellow inventor Wayne……

"Hey bud, what's up?" sez I.

"Guess where I am?"

"You've been arrested in a bar fight in rural Montana, and now I have to bail you out…..right?"

"No I'm in DC."

"Oh, so you got arrested for mooning some Kerry supporters. I'll take the Metroliner down later, after dinner."

"I just said 'thanks' to your dad and mine."

"You did what?"

"I'm at the WWII memorial, just standing here……. crying."

(Long silence with sniffles)

"Is it as beautiful as they say?"

"You have got to get down here. It is incredible."


I have never met anyone who endured WWII that bragged about the experience. All my years growing up in Newark, none of my family ever spoke openly about it. They may have talked among themselves, but clammed up quick if kids or wives approached. As children caught with their hands in the cookie jar, they always had that hollow look on their faces if they realized they might be overheard.

Like Mel Gibson in the movie, The Patriot, I came to appreciate the demons and beasts that were unleashed in that horrible episode of the early 1940s. Men who were there did not need to be reminded how they were transformed into killing machines. I now believe they feared that as much as being killed.

Wayne's father landed on D-Day, fighting his way across Europe. Dad was at Guadalcanal, and every other South Pacific island hellhole. He was severely wounded at Tinian--recuperating in naval hospitals, and later, a New Jersey seaside hotel; cramped in bulky arm and leg casts for 18 months.

We would call them anxiety attacks today, but I remember snippets of flashback attacks Dad endured after the war-severe shortness of breath, nightmares, and shivering bouts of recurrent malaria he had contracted while on the islands.

I suppose I would have had them too if my left arm and leg were compound fractured and my body was peppered with shrapnel, courtesy of a Japanese 500 pound aerial bomb that blew him through 7 decks of his ship. That arm and leg were literally wired back together. His good friend aboard ship, later to become his best man, wrapped him in life jackets and tossed him out of the gaping hole in the sinking ship's burning engine room……saving his life. For 14 hours he lay in shark infested waters, covered in fuel oil, barely conscious. From there he began a grueling recovery.

Doc Bellucci would come over from his office on Mt. Prospect Avenue whenever Dad was suffering and help him through. I remember many Saturday morning visits to the Veteran's building in downtown Newark for Dad to receive some heat treatments and therapy, followed by the doctor giving him a big jar of muscle ointment for me to rub him down with several times a week. I used to knead his muscles like dough, watching his skin turn cherry red from that ointment, but it helped quite a bit. My young forearms became strong, and hard from all that massaging. To this day, I have a steel grip, and can give your back, arms and legs a rubdown you'll never forget. Ask my wife.

Through all this, he never shared his war memories, usually just tossing out somewhat benign statements every now and then; but no windows or poignant moments where he let down his guard. There was a steel door I could not get around. Mom urged me not to try and open it. Even she knew little of his pain. He would tell me when he was ready.

That door opened slightly during the height of the Vietnam War. I remember it vividly. The infamous lottery draft call was coming up for those of us eligible. Mom was beside herself. We were sitting in the backyard, around dusk one evening. Mom was crying and Dad just looked at her, and as if I was not there, said…….

"Don't worry. I'll break both his legs if he gets drafted. No son of mine is going to be wasted on a war that our own leaders don't support. That's no way for good boys to die alone and unsupported in some &%$#$* jungle. His uncles and I have been there and we know what that kind of war is like. If he is going to fight someone in defense of this country, he is going to be totally supported and come home to a parade….like I did."

With that he got up and limped inside. I was stunned. Dad never went back on his word. My legs started to hurt. Fortunately, just a few days later, it was the only lottery I ever won with a very high draft number.

One hot summer afternoon, in his seventieth year, he opened the door. He and I were alone having a cold soda in the kitchen of his No. 5th Street house. Just a few days before, he was the victim of a freak accident. While he was sitting in the kitchen, lightning had hit the house, the bathroom vent pipe as a matter of fact. That vent pipe ran through a wall in the kitchen not more than 5 feet from where he had been sitting. The force of the stroke lifted him off the chair and deposited him on the floor of the dining room. He was shaken, but not hurt, according to his doctor.

In relating the tale to me, he used an example of what the thunderous crash sounded like….

"It was exactly the same sound as the 5 inch deck guns aboard ship."

For a moment, his choking, tearful words stopped. Looking hollow faced, he appeared as if he could smell the smoke from the guns-almost wrinkling his nose.

"It was that sudden and sharp a report. We had a Greek fellow on aboard ship who could hit anything. He'd wait for the waves to rock the ship and on the upstroke of the wave he would fire that 5-inch all-purpose gun mount and be dead on target. I can still see him stepping down on that firing button. Man he was good. After an island landing they would dispatch our ship along the coast and up rivers to take out enemy positions and things like factories and docks."

"You can do a lot of damage with a 5-inch shell. Sometimes I would load the gunpowder bags in or ram the shell home. We also used the rounds during burials at sea. That is something I never can forget."

"I wasn't afraid during the fighting. It's too busy and so *&$$%#$ noisy you don't think. You just curse at the enemy and shoot at him. We used rifles, handguns, portable machine guns, whatever we had including the big guns. I seen guys throw small caliber ammunition in frustration at nearby flying airplanes. You just want to kill them any way you can. With all the bomb explosions and large gun concussions, many of us wet our pants or worse during battles. No one made fun of anyone."

"But the burials", he sobbed, "That's what I cannot forget. You had to put your dead buddies into canvas sheets and sew them in with a couple of 5-inch projectiles between their legs to make them sink. Then everyone attended a burial ceremony off the stern, and you had to lift their bodies up with a board and commit them to the deep. The sound those canvas sheets made when they slid down that board. That was worse than any fight I ever been in. Even worse than Guadalcanal or those island landings at Pelelieu."

Dad broke down in tears and so did I, but the door was not fully open yet……..

"That beautiful ruby ring I have. I got that ruby off a battlefield in the Solomon islands. Took it off a dead Jap lieutenant's hand. Those bastards fought like hell, but we were meaner that day. Always did like fighting with the Marines. They never gave up. Uncle Nick was a marine, you remember? He and his flamethrower saw much action at Iwo Jima and Saipan. He is haunted too by the smell of that napalm he sprayed. We all are haunted by something."

"I couldn't even go to the bathroom without being scared. Ever try and squat down and relieve yourself behind some bushes with a .45 in each hand? The enemy was everywhere."

On it went for several hours. Some I had heard just bits of before and much I did not. Stories of men blown out of their shoes, friends there one minute and swept away in horrific nearby explosions the next; where mere inches meant the difference between life and death. Men who started a sentence…… never completing it. Tales of men losing fingers, ears, testicles, and hands to enemy fire.

Recounts of island invasions where Dad was landing troops in the small crafts and firing the dual 50 caliber machine guns, raking the island and trees so the marines could get ashore. Jap soldiers being shot out of many palm trees from the force of the big 50s. Anything that looked like it might move was shredded with the big armor piercing bullets.

Huge landing craft ships beaching themselves on the body littered shore, their thick steel doors opening, vomiting men, jeeps, tanks, and live fire from every piece of fighting equipment inside. Everywhere, men were dying, fighting with animal ferocity. The blood red color of the beautiful, blue island, water was another thing that haunted him.

Then the quiet came after a battle, when you looked around, and cried for friends and poor bastards you didn't even know. There were no heroes or braggers afterwards. The real heroes did not come home. Medals meant nothing.

Five years later Dad and his ghosts were laid to rest.


Just like my buddy Wayne, I cried when I saw the memorial last weekend, and I am crying now as I write this.

It's a memorial for all of us, bought and paid for.

The big tears came when I saw the name of the place where Dad was wounded, carved in stone as one of the major battles of the Pacific theater. I walked away from my wife and friends at this point and let the emotion out.

Leaving, I remembered something very eerie Dad had told me. He was wounded January 3rd, 1944. I was born January 3rd, 1949.

When I got home from Washington I called Wayne, and told him our dads were both all right.

I wish they could have seen how much we appreciate what they did.

Thanks guys.

And Thank You to any vets out there who read this. Many of us care…. very, very much.


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