For my son, whose middle name is Edward

I called an old soldier for Memorial Day. Elgin, I said, how are you? Karleen, he replied, it’s so good to hear from you.

Tell me about the war, I said. Oh, baby, he answered, I don’t like to talk about that. War is ugly, you know. And so we talked about his vegetables. In his mid-80s, hale and hearty, he’d just come in from the garden, which is full of squash and zucchini and tomatoes and onions and bell peppers.

He was stationed in the Philippines for two years in World War II. Old sepia-colored photographs show a lean, slouching, hawk-faced young man standing with a rifle slung over a shoulder near a pile of dead Japanese. A recent PBS documentary reminded that the battle for the Philippines was hard fought, often hand to hand, against a formidable and determined enemy who almost beat us.

I asked about Edward, his brother-in-law, whose old high school, senior year portrait, gently watercolored as was the style in those days, I have on my altar. Edward is handsome and young and smiling, seventeen, I think, in the portrait. He wears a suit and tie. His hair is neatly parted on one side. He too had been in the Philippines, but he was part of the three-month Battle of Bataan, which was lost. And he walked the long, hard, harsh, killing miles of the Bataan Death March, prosecuted as a war crime after the war ended. He survived and was on a prison ship on its way to Japan, when it was bombed by American forces. So he survived combat and a death march to die at sea. I think he was nineteen when he died. The baby of the family.

The news came to a little town in East Texas called Troupe. His mother lost her sanity for a time when the news came, and when she recovered she was never the same. That’s family legend anyway. Edward was my son’s great uncle. And Elgin is his grandfather.

Bataan Death March

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3 responses to “For my son, whose middle name is Edward

  1. Pingback: 7×7 | Karleen Koen — writing life

  2. Oh Karleen , how thoughtful to post this, especially in the light of the terrible murder of the young soldier in broad daylight, here in England.
    I read with such sorrow the cruelty inflicted in the P.O.W’s by the Japanese and as the mother of a murdered daughter I fully understand how Edward and Elgin’s Mother was never the same again. It is impossible to recover from the death of your child. Thankyou again for posting this. X

  3. Preston F. Kirk

    As a teenager, I read a book by one of the survivors of the Bataan Death March. I was mentally overwhelmed and physically shocked by the cruelty, the heroism, the struggle to survive without helping the enemy. I have never viewed war through the prism of adventure and fortunately, caught “the crease” of service training before something called the Vietnam War heated up and Uncle Sam demanded my blood, guts, heart and soul. / Thanks for this beautiful tribute to your family members.

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