Time to Say Thanks

 

by John C. Westervelt

 

†††† World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 30,000 a month.† Of the 16 million men and women that served in the United States armed services in WW II, only 4 million are still living.

In a recent phone conversation, I viewed, through the eyes of my sister, the funeral of one of these brave men.† I had met my sisterís friend, Bob Kruta.† He was a gregarious man, but not one to talk about his wartime service.† Bobís funeral was at my boyhood church, Wesley UMC in Oklahoma City.† It was only fitting that Bobís Marine Corps buddy came from Iowa to tell Bobís story.

Bob was eighteen when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.† In July 1942, he joined the marines. †After basic training, his unit was shipped to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.† These islands are ten degrees south of the equator and 1100 miles northeast of Australia.† Most of these young men had never heard the name Guadalcanal, and they were being asked to invade this jungle-covered island to root out the Japanese and capture a strategic airstrip.

Over 4000 marines and 2300 army personnel were killed or wounded before the island was secured in February 1943.† The steaming jungle fighting left Bob weighing ninety-nine pounds, so he was sent to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to recuperate.

From Alaska he went to England.† It was here that he joined a group of marines that went ashore just before the June 6, 1944 amphibious landing at Normandy.† These men used light beacons to guide the invading Allied forces onto the beaches.

†††† Bob loved the esprit de corps of the marines, so after the war he stayed for a career, not dreaming that he would be back in harsh combat in five years.† On the bleakest day of the Korean War, Thanksgiving 1950, Bobís marine division had fought their way across Korea to the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China.† Two hundred thousand Chinese troops unexpectedly came spilling across the border and routed the 8th U.S. Army and surrounded the ten thousand marines.† The marines fought their way out across a mountainous road in sub-artic conditions.

At the funeral, nine young, erect, crew-cut marines sat stone-faced on the front row of the sanctuary at Wesley.† When the service was over, they covered the closed casket with an American flag before carrying the casket down the center aisle to the foyer.

At the cemetery, the marines fired a twenty-one gun salute followed by the playing of taps on a bugle.† There was not a dry eye among those gathered to honor Bob.† As a final remembrance, two marines meticulously folded the flag into a compact triangle, inserted several spent shells, and handed the flag to Bobís wife Edie.† If no one remembered to say thanks through the years, thanks were spoken on this day.

Likewise, we join the belated chorus in saying, ďThank you Bob...and so many others... for serving our country.Ē

 

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