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The Husband My Mother Lost At 24

Discussion in 'A Soldier's Story' started by azalaeeight, Dec 3, 2007.

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  1. azalaeeight

    azalaeeight New Member

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    I didn't know the 24-year-old Marine who was killed in the Phillipines during World War II, but I think of him often; and think of him each year as Memorial Day approaches. Tucked away in drawers and treasure boxes are photographs, U.S. Marine memorabilia, and souveniers this young man brought back from his first tour of duty. I had been ten years old when I first heard of him.
    I'd like to tell you his name, but somehow I feel I don't have a right to share personal information about this person I feel I know but know I never did.

    He had been married to my mother but wasn't my father. He was the husband she had in her "first life" - before that life ended when EL was killed in the line of duty during the war. They were 23 years old when they got married, and the photographs show a young, handsome, Marine in a dress uniform and my pretty mother in her wedding dress.

    I was ten and sitting on the chair next to the stove when my mother decided it would be a good time to tell me about her first husband. She said, "There's something you should know, and I think you're old enough now." She said, "I was married to someone besides Dad when I was young, but he was killed in the war." My first question was whether he was my sister's father, but once it was cleared up that he wasn't the revelation didn't seem like much of a big deal to me. I was, as I said, ten. She explained that she didn't marry my father until five years after EL had been killed - long enough for her to even think about dating or marrying someone else. I did ask why she never went to a cemetery (because we regularly visited her mother's grave), and she told me he was not buried in the U.S.

    Over the years to follow, though, my mother would talk more about her first husband; and as I matured, I realized the impact having and losing him had had on her. It wasn't that she dwelled on her past, but it was a big enough thing that she would mention it from time to time. She had said how she had felt as if she had one life, had it end, and then went on to have a second life. She talked about arguments between her and her first husband's mother, resentments, and the house she and her husband had that she didn't want to live in after he was killed. She talked about how horrible it was to lose him, and once I was older her sisters would occasionally mention something about that horrible time in all of their lives. My mother would occasionally mention how all the couple's plans had disintegrated in a moment, how difficult it was to imagine her healthy young husband dead, and how difficult it was to think about how he had come home safely once - only to be called back to his death.

    EL was a quiet presence as I grew up, but he was someone who was not mentioned frequently.
    Instead, mentions of him came in small but powerful doses. His existence, marriage to my mother, and death did not amount to a cloud of my childhood. It was more a matter of my being aware that my mother had a cloud over her existence.

    Her marriage to my father was, as she described it, a quiet one. Because she had been married before, and because my father was Catholic, their marriage was a private, back-of-the-church,
    type of thing. There was no wedding dress, and only my father's Catholic brother and sister-in-law attended. My mother said she had grown to love my father because he was such a kind person. He had been through the war, and he understood loss. I was grown when she commented that my father had probably made a much better father than her first husband ever would have. She talked about how much (and how differently) she had loved her first husband
    and how much (and how deeply) she loved my father. More than once, though, there was that mention of a previous life and a previous her. She once said how she was happy to have the life she had but how it would be impossible to just pretend the previous life and loss hadn't existed.

    My siblings and I grew up looking at the remnants of World War II - my father's history, the story of my mother's first husand, and stories of an uncle who had been injured as a Marine. When my father died the belongings through which we sorted contained items left from his days as a soldier. When my mother died, among her belongings were not just reminders of my father's World War II
    days but reminders of that first life of which we had never been a part - reminders of a young Marine, a mystery to us, just one casualty among thousands and thousand of a war before my time.

    My mother died before home computers became popular. About three years ago, though, as I was thinking of EL as Memorial Day approached, it occurred to me that had he not been killed I wouldn't exist. My two biological children would not exist, and my adopted son would be a different person. My brother and sister would not exist, neither would my sister's three children or three grandchildren. Although his death wasn't planned this way, it occurred to me that we all exist because of it. That's what made me think of looking up information about EL online, although as I got into it I realized it was as if I was doing something for my mother.

    I found the record of EL's death and information about his burial in the US Military cemetery. I found a picture of the cemetery, and there - on the screen of the computer in my home office area - were the rows of white crosses across an expanse of green grass. I wished my mother could have seen the white crosses that could be so easily accessed from a home computer or the information available about World War II casualties. I wished she could have seen EL's name appear more than once on the screen, and I wished she were here so I could say, "Mum, guess what I found out about EL!"

    She had been gone a few years by the time I was able to make EL a more real person to me and by the time it had finally hit me that none of the people who came from my mother's marriage to my father would have ever existed if EL had not been killed. After spending a few days returning to the World War II sites it occurred to me that it was kind of pointless. After all, my mother was gone. It shouldn't matter at this point. Still it did. For some reason, it just kind of really, really, mattered.

    Today, five of the six grandchildren of EL's wife are older than he was when he was left among the white crosses in Manila. As my sister and I realize now exactly how young 24 really is, and as we live in a time when people younger than that are being sent into horrible places, we may just now be realizing the reality of the existence, and the extent of the loss, of the young man we never knew.

    I don't quite know how or why, but when my mother died she left behind a piece of that cloud that loomed over her life since before I was born. Being able to see where the remains of EL rest,. in whatever peace comes when the pain of life and the promise of the future have been extinguished, gave me some type of closure that I apparently needed.

    I know he had a sister, and there's a chance she could still be alive. There's also the chance she had children and told them about her brother. For some reason, I somehow wish I could let them know that all these decades later I am here - thinking about the person they lost, the person some of them never got to know, and the cloud of my mother's life that didn't quite die when she did.
     
  2. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    Another heartfelt account, thanks for sharing. Good luck with finding EL's sister. If she's still alive I think you contacting her with your views might well feel like a godsend to the woman in her twilight years.
     
  3. azalaeeight

    azalaeeight New Member

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    Somehow, I don't think I'm brave enough to find her and show up as the niece she never got to have.
     
  4. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    azalaeeight, that has to one of the top posts here in war44, it is very well written and is clear to understand the meaning. A real big thank you for sharing this with us.

    I echo Dave’s sentiments and urge you to carry on regardless, your Aunty may just be waiting for you!
     

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