Cori’s excellent reminder that “Memorial Day isn't about hamburgers, beer, and friends — it's about remembering what it took to ensure that we could have hamburger, beer, and friends” got me thinking…
Our parents used the mantle above the fireplace in the Ancestral Betz Home in Camden, NJ for immediate family pictures – nearly the entire space was filled with various school portraits of my brother, sister and me. (The only exception was at Christmastime, when they’d come down and the Nativity would go up.)
In fact, there was only one picture that wasn’t one of us children, a faded sepia-colored photo of a young sandy-haired man in a dress-shirt uniform. That man was my mom’s older brother. My uncle Franklin, a man I never met.
At the time of America’s entrance into World War II, my uncle had had signed a contract to play baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies. But when the war started, he enlisted, volunteered for submarine duty and was assigned to the USS Herring (SS-233) as a motor machinists mate. The submarine had successful tours in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.
On its last patrol, The Herring had torpedoed four Japanese vessels, but was sunk off the Kuril Islands on June 1st, 1944, losing all hands. My uncle was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart. He was 21 years old. The Herring was never recovered.
My mother didn’t talk much about her older brother – mostly saying that he knew how to make everyone laugh – but you can tell that she looked up to him so much (mom was a teenager when the war started) and thought of him often.
One story she did tell was that her mother had come to them one morning and said that she knew that Franklin had died because she had seen him in a dream crying out for her amidst flames and steam. So, no one seemed very surprised when the “Navy Car” pulled up to the house to inform the family some weeks later.
So, while I certainly plan on enjoying this holiday weekend, I will spend a little time saluting the sacrifice of my uncle Franklin, who I saw every day in our living room and would have loved to have gotten to know.