Tribute

 

Mr. West

Harry E. West Sr. 1924-1977

 

My father was taken to a Navy recruiter in West Point, Georgia by his mother when he was seventeen. His father had recently died of a heart attack at the age of 53 and his mother didn’t want to take care of him. I believe the words she used when standing in front of the Navy recruiter were, ” Here y’all take him, because I don’t want to take care of him”. By the time he was twenty he was flying Corsairs in the Pacific theater of World War II.

My father never talked much about his past as a kid growing up or his time as a Naval Aviator in the war. he always lived in the present and preferred not to dwell in the past. The little I learned about him makes me realize why he didn’t want to talk about his childhood. His mother and eventually my grandmother was a completed “B”. Most men of my fathers generation didn’t discuss their time in the war either.

One story I will never forget that he told me after he had received his morning shot of morphine for the pain he endured twenty-four hours a day from his brain tumor. It went like this, he was launching from the carrier for a support mission for ground troops on one of the many Pacific Islands and his engine died just as he cleared the end of the carrier and he crash landed into the water and the carrier nearly ran over the top of him. The carrier didn’t have time to stop and look for him and my dad floated for several days before being rescued.

Another story he told me was about the time he floated with his dead gunner on a piece of wing after being shot down. I don’t know the type of aircraft he was flying or what part of the Pacific he was in at the time this event occurred. He didn’t go into much detail. When he would tell a story about his time in the war I kept my mouth shut and listened. I was afraid he would stop talking. My dad told how he kept his gunner up on the wing with him so the body wouldn’t attract sharks. He said by the third day of floating around in the hot pacific sun, the stench from his dead gunner was terrible and his thirst was to the point that he was ready to give up and slide off the wing and drown. He was finally spotted by a PT boat and rescued. It’s hard for me to remember all of the story, because I was sixteen at the time and that is way too many years ago. My dad told me many stories as I would stay and watch over him after school while my mother would run errands.

I don’t remember which story it was, but he told me that the Navy had notified his mother that he was presumed dead and missing and all she complained about was when would she get the money from his life insurance policy. She got mad when they told her that he had been found and was alive.

To be continued:

My time as a son was way too short with him.