“How Can a Person See Such a Thing and not be Changed?”


The film is of a poignant burial at sea of a Navy gunner named Loyce Deen in the aircraft he was defending in 1944 in the Pacific. Takes just a minute and a half.

  Burial at Sea of Loyce Deen  

And the Death of Captain Waskow is a short 3-minute read by war correspondent Ernie Pyle, sent by dispatch from Italy in 1944.

The film gets regular visits at our VeternsTales.org site, and Ernie Pyle’s narrative of Captain Waskow’s body being brought down the mountain across a mule is one on the Top-10 most read pieces at my site.

                     The reason we never see or read these sorts of things anymore is that they never happen anymore. And for that we should be thankful in one sense.

Our military became so efficient by Korea in the 50s we could take care of wounded soldiers closer to the battlefield, and there is no longer been any need to bury our sons in foreign fields or at sea. We ferry our fallens’ bodies home. I suppose the occasional burial at sea still occurs, but since Italy and France in ’44 and ’45, and the Marine assaults on the Japanese island-chain, America has never left any man behind.

This Loyce Dean film was a real event, not Hollywood, and it was filmed because of its history as Deen was the only aviation crewman to be buried at sea with his aircraft…his body so dismembered it was impossible to separate him from the aircraft. Of the 36,000 of our navy deaths in World War II most are still lying in a watery grave in the Pacific and Atlantic, most without benefit of clergy, just a notification to families of their ship being sunk, with “all hands”. Loyce Deen got a stone marker at Punchbowl in Hawaii, now called The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, because of those fingerprints. I visited it in ’74.

I can’t recall who the priest was that made the comment, “How can one see this and not be changed?”…but it fits.

Only you can’t see its meaning unless someone first tells you it happened, because you’re not going to find it scrolling through Facebook. That it has a larger meaning now has to be pointed out, because that meaning is being lost at a rapid pace not just by the passing of generations, but by the intentional erasing of its meaning.

Or did you not even know that just two days ago, Sept 2, was the 75th Anniversary of ending of WWII? Surely you weren’t thinking that NBC, CBS, or the New York Times (who were around at the time) would remind us?

But some things don’t have to be explained. Their meaning is universal. But they first have to be “noticed”.

If you’re under 50 you’ve never heard of Ernie Pyle, let alone read any of his stories. My dad, who was the same age as Loyce Deen, had a copy of one Pyle’s books from the Italian campaign, where he served. But Pyle’s story of CPT Waskow and the other soldiers who came down from the mountains is a story that was never told again.

I don’t know how the Germans, Russians or Japanese buried their soldiers but the care of our wounded and dead went back to the Civil War, both North and South. It was an American thing. When I was in Ukraine in 1991-2 they were still “excavating” mass graves of thousands of German and Russian soldiers and parents of sons in Afghanistan during the USSR’s little war in the 80s still didn’t know what had happened to their “missing” sons.

We no longer bury our boys on foreign shores; Italy, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Normandy, (France), Brittany, Punch Bowl and even Tunisia, where only 2850 are known dead, and 3700 missing-in-action are only named. In Vietnam all came back but  are1587 are still declared MIA. (A work still in progress.)

America is unique in that we are the only country “in the history of the world” whose war dead buried there died trying to liberate those people, not conquer them.

Whoever sees Loyce Deen’s burial at sea or read Ernie Pyle’s story of CPY Waskow can’t grasp their full meaning to future generations unless they understand that single truth. That’s what I mean by “being changed”.

By modern accounting Loyce Deen died three generations ago, those young 20-something sailors on the deck of that carrier would be over 100 if they were alive today. My dad was also 24 at the time. My oldest son was born in 1970, and his children after 2005.

In the scheme of things in the Law of Generations, the only things my grandchildren would ever know about my parents or times, will be the things that I pass onto them through my son. The Meaning of America is supposed to be passed onto them in school, but you know how that has been working out with the school systems.

of course World War II will live in history books, but not so much in the hearts of our next generation of Americans. It will have no greater place in Americans’ hearts than the Battle of Waterloo that ended Napoleon’s run at being prince of the world is to the English. When I die within the next few years almost all personal family memory of it will be gone, the patriotic films, the histories, even the heroism. Then in another generation, when my son is my age, Vietnam will fade away in like manner.

But this film, and that story of CPT Waskow, in part because of the interaction of the Essex crew, the minister’s benediction, or the soldiers who served under Waskow, should live on because of that larger legacy of “being American”.

What should not be lost, cannot be lost, is the continuity of our generations, knowing the shoulders we stand on. If not then America too will be forgotten.

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