By Justin Mitchell
I’ve never thought that being a veteran was a big deal as the only fighting I saw was mostly GIs versus GIs in South Korean bars, battles over bar girls and assorted inebriated nonsense. But I was quietly surprised and grateful for my son’ Julian’s tribute to his late grandfathers who were on opposing sides during World War II.
Their stories were compelling, with the Korean grandpa’s mutiny, slaying of Japanese commanders and harrowing escape from an insignificant island, and my father’s front-row view of the dawning of the Atomic Age.
Julian’s South Korean grandfather was conscripted by Japan as the Japanese had colonized Korea and the two Koreas didn’t yet exist. He was sent with other Korean cannon fodder — commanded by Japanese officers — to an island in what I believe is in or near Micronesia. He was a bright, well educated man, but never knew where the posting was. But from his descriptions of the natives and climate, it’s a fair guess.
During the end of the war US troops were wiping up Pacific islands and the supply chain for his group had run dry. Hungry and angry, with the aid of the natives they rebelled, killed their Japanese overlords, happily surrendered to US soldiers and sailors, and eventually made it back amid more travails to Korea.
Julian’s US grandfather was a submariner in the South Pacific shortly thereafter on the USS Pilot Fish and saw no real action, except during the sub’s minor place in US Navy history as one of several vessels decommissioned for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini island in 1946.
When my father dropped the fact on me in the 1980s I was astonished.
“You saw an A-bomb go off? What was your protection?”
“Nothing except sunglasses,” he replied laconically, a la Robert Mitchum.
“What about the radiation?”
“Well, none of my kids glowed in the dark.”