On December 7, 1941, my beautiful, kind, and brave grandfather was in Pearl Harbor, far from his Indiana country upbringing.
Before that infamous day though, the men — and their gals — enjoyed some downtime in tropical Oahu.
My granddaddy was a Lieutenant aboard the USS Montgomery, a destroyer located near the entrance to Pearl Harbor when the bombers attacked. The ship wasn’t fully crewed, but it managed to depart to sea immediately, due to its location. The Montgomery eventually received four battle stars for World War II service.
Later in WWII, my grandfather took part in the Pacific Theater — ironically, in the area where I grew up, the Kwajalein Atoll — contending with the high seas of the South Pacific and kamikaze pilots.
Photo Courtesy of NavSource Naval History
He eventually became Commander of the USS Shea, another destroyer. During periods of the war, the Shea was in constant engagements with Japanese aircraft. At one point, all communications were lost. To imagine being on a listing ship, with so many dead and dying fellow men, your communications completely lost, out in the vast empty waters of the South Pacific… This is what I think of when I meet veterans today.
In 1954, the Shea took part in the atomic tests conducted at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands (my stomping grounds). Regardless of these feats, my grandfather remained the most gentle soul till his death at an excruciatingly young age — I’m convinced due to the close exposure of radiation. To this day, 32 years after his passing, he remains my guiding force. James Walter Reed led his crew with an inherent gentleness and strength — a combination so very rare to the human species.
Both he and my grandmother are now laid to rest at the breathtaking Arlington National Cemetery. May this day continue to live in infamy, and never be forgotten — may the heroism of so many always be remembered. And may these days of remembrance serve to teach us lessons of loss — and futures of peace.
And finally…. Early happy birthday to you (tomorrow, the eighth), granddaddy.