Ginny Walsh of Hayesville, NC relates a veterans day story about her brother, Eddie Fields
The last communication we had from my brother, Eddie, told us he was somewhere in the South Pacific. He could not be more specific because all mail was censored. World War II was raging in the South Pacific as well as Europe. It had been three months since we heard from him. Our family was worried and deeply concerned, especially my mother. She was in utter despair.
Eddie joined the Coast Guard in 1940, at age 18, a year before war was declared, so he was a well trained, seasoned sailor and among the first to be put into action. He wrote us often as time permitted, though they moved constantly. Because a moving target is harder to hit, his ship stayed in port just long enough to refuel and take on food supplies.
Mother wrote him every day, as did most of the family. We mailed tons of "V Mail", the onion skin, square envelopes with the red, white and blue diagonal stripes around the edges. I still see those letters.
Suddenly, our letters began to come back marked, "UNABLE TO DELIVER," or "ADDRESS UNKNOWN." We weren't too concerned at first. During those war years it sometimes took two weeks for the mail to get through. Then all communication from him ceased. Mother wrote to his Commanding Officer. That letter was also returned.
We continued to write, but the letters came back. Each day mother waited for the mailman. When he handed her the mail he always said, "Sorry, nothing today." We waited, kept hoping and prayed.
Silently, by example, my parents ushered us into completing each day's demands, whether it was work, locating gasoline, planning a meal around ration coupons, finding a store that had sugar and coffee, or going to school.
Evening brought us home to the dinner table and more often than not, the conversation turned to "remember when's..." "Remember when Dad got our first car?" Eddie pleaded with Dad to let him take the car to visit friends about five miles away. Daddy finally relented but not without ten minutes of forceful instructions regarding the care of his treasured Model A.
Some years later, Eddie was heard to say, " I have never dreaded anything more than having to stand by my Dad's bed at midnight and tell him I had wrecked the car."
"Remember when Eddie would jump up from the noon dinner table and run to the outhouse, leaving his chore of drying the dinner dishes up to someone else?"
Our fun loving mother decided to put a stop to that. One day she slipped away from the table and went to the outhouse, draped a white sheet over her body, stood behind the door and waited. Sure enough, here he came, he ran inside and slammed the door shut. Mom jumped toward him and yelled "BOO." Eddie said it scared him to death and forever after he checked behind all doors.
How remorseful I felt for all the times I quarreled with him. Though in truth he teased his three sisters at every opportunity. Eddie was the only boy in our family, and we three were convinced that mother loved him best -- a common misconception among siblings. I thought of the time he was stationed in San Diego, waiting to be shipped out and wrote that someone had stolen his wallet out of his foot locker. I was going to school and "jerking soda" at the corner drugstore for fifty cents an hour, but I sent him my last five dollars. I didn't mind. I loved him. He was my only brother.
With the passage of time, some things in our memory fade and seem less important. But, I vividly recall the events of a Saturday afternoon in May of 1945. After three months of waiting for some word from my brother, it finally came.
On that day, I came home from work at 5:00 p.m., greeted my mother in the kitchen, said hello to the family and dashed upstair to get all primped up for a date. As I started down the hallway the phone rang. Being the only sixteen-year old in the house, I naturally assumed it would be for me. I started back downstairs.
A family friend answered and summoned my mother. I heard him say "It's San Francisco." Mother sat down and raised the phone to her ear. "Hello?" After a short pause, I watched my mother's entire body melt into the chair and heard her whisper, " My son, My son."
He had arrived in San Francisco, was well and would be home in a week. When all our tears of joy were dried, all the neighbors informed of our good news, and we had settled down, I glanced toward the phone. Mother had been frying chicken when the call came. There on the receiver was her handprint in flour. Her grasp was so firm the imprint looked as though it was imbedded in the black, hard rubber of the telephone.
I thought, at the time, I knew what agony my mother was suffering in those months. I didn't. Only now can I fully comprehend her feelings. I have three sons.