(Photo: A member of the Greatest Generation, my father,William R. Schlater with some of his medals 1912-1995)
In the spirit of the age of the Greatest Generation, on Monday, December 8, 1941, a 30 year old man who loved his country made the sacrificing and brave decision, without batting an eye, to leave behind his wife and daughter and commit to serving his country in its time of need because of what happened on December 7, 1941 when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
I remember Mom and Dad talking about the horror of hearing on the radio that the Japanese had attacked our fleet of ships and hearing them talk about the formal declaration of war when Franklin Delano Roosevelt described the “date that would live in infamy.”
They must have talked for hours and hours that led to the decision when he would leave his daughter and wife behind. That daughter was my sister. I arrived nine months after his Honorable Discharge from the Navy as Chief Petty Officer and five years and seven months after my sister was born to parents who previously lived through the Great Depression as young adults.
When WWII broke out, Dad was in Chicago studying to be an architect at Chicago Tech. He had some stories to tell about Al Capone. In fact, in the mid-90s I saw a very unique car in my hometown at a gas station near the interstate, 90 miles south of Chicago. I asked the driver about the car’s history. He told me it was Al Capone’s car.
Dad dropped everything to “sign up,” first going to the Marines who told him he was too old which flabbergasted him since he was only 30, then going “next door” to join the Navy where he proudly served until the war ended. Because of his architectural knowledge and carpentry skills, he was placed with the CBMU-515-23, “The BIGGEST Little Seabee Outfit on GUAM!”
Many emotional scars and some physical were left from that time in his life, like all wars with our servicemen and women.
- He came home with malaria which most of the veterans did.
- I remember mom and him discussing the day “the ‘Japs” bombed Pearl Harbor. That word made me cringe until I was old enough to understand wars. It would be 40 years before he could call them the Japanese, not Japs, and 35 years before he would buy a Japanese car.
- A few years after the war, America began importing “Made in Japan” plastic toys. He made sure my mom sterilized them in hot water before I could play with them. I don’t think it had anything to do with the culture, but probably the idea of coming from a foreign country. Now we take plastic for granted, but it was a big deal in those days. One of those toys was a tiny replica of a vacuum which, of course, I proceeded to swallow.
- He always slept with a gun and long knife under his bed. That knife used to be used on his family’s farm to butcher pigs. You can imagine his bewilderment when I became a vegetarian at the age of 18.
- About twenty years after the war, the community in which we were living wanted to name a street after a “sister city” in Japan. He called to tell me that he and his buddies were protesting it and not to worry if I called and he was in jail. The city did end up naming the street after its sister city in Japan and years later Dad was fine with it.
Dad never talked much about the war, but he loved to show my high school friends pictures that were taken while he was on Guam and Guadalcanal, some of Guam which I will share with you at the end of the article. Often, I would have friends bring other friends to ask, “May we please look at your Dad’s war pictures again?”
Four years later, with no tours of duty in those days and no means of communication with loved ones back home except the United States Postal Service, he came home with his CPO jacket, his 1940 issued Navy Bluejacket’s Manual (the basic handbook for United States Navy personnel) and a blanket from a deceased Japanese soldier. I still have that blanket and would love to find the family of that soldier to give it to them and a purse for my mom handmade from shells crocheted together by the tribal Chief’s wife.
This is a picture of the label on the blanket. If anyone reading this, or know of someone who can read Japanese, please leave me a message in the comments section at the end of this article.
The grandson of Scottish and German immigrants, he was a no nonsense and simple man who was happy just having a roof over his head. His life as a child growing up on a farm in rural Indiana, the youngest of four, was simple. They had no indoor plumbing (if you can imagine in subzero temperatures) and used to take baths by a wooden stove in a room on the second floor.
Dad’s German great grandfather was a Veteran of WWI in Germany and received the Iron Cross. They refused to speak German to the children or in public. In his German foreign tongue he said, “We are in America now, and we will learn to speak English and never speak German again.” I’m sure part of that was being a proud American, but also being mad at the Germans because they kept him in the military permanently. The only way he could get out of it was to leave Germany.
He and his siblings (Leon, Dorothy and Lucille) were basketball stars; yes, the sisters too who used to entertain the locals with what seems to be no rules basketball games. Their stories were hilarious and would not be allowed on a basketball court today.
Dad used to play against former UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, and my Uncle Leon was a basketball star at Indiana State. Dad got such a kick out of watching the State Champion basketball team at my high school, but he could never stay very long in the gym because the sound of cheers and roars from the crowd were “too many decibels for him.” We Hoosiers love our basketball where there is a basketball rim practically on every barn and every garage.
I will always remember my dad for being so proud that he served his country and will always be forever thankful for instilling in me patriotism, a strong work ethic and manners. His favorite saying was, “You don’t have to have money to have manners.” To this day, the courteousness that I have for others seems overboard compared with the manners in today’s society.
Regarding the work ethic, I was never allowed to sleep in on weekends past 9:00 a.m. Being raised on a farm, he thought I should be grateful to be able to sleep past 4:00 a.m.!
Dad was a survivalist in the truest sense of the word. I wish he were here with me today to share those survivalist skills because I wouldn’t listen as a young lady. However, he did manage to teach me how to shoot a rifle at the age of 10.
Dad never went back to Chicago Tech to get his degree in architectural engineering; however, he become a homebuilder for a couple of years building homes for friends and then became foreman on several construction jobs throughout his life. There is tract/subdivision in the community where I was reared until I was 10 that is named after him and a park near his and siblings’ homestead named after my uncle.
We lost a member of the Greatest Generation in September of 1995 at the age of 83, joining my mother who died in January of 1973. People used to ask him why he never married again; his reply was, “Why, when you had the best?” They both were the best! That era was the best! I wish, like many of you, that we had that America again.
Chow Time, Guam, WWII
The boys knew God had not forsaken them; they did not forget Him either! Sunday Chapel, Guam, WWII
Out of Commission Japanese Ship on a Guam Beach, WWII
Seems like they couldn’t wait for the barber shop to be completed! Guam, WWII
All of the comforts of home~~ Entertainment theatre, Guam, WWII