|A Japanese "Dog Tag" from World War II, permission from owner to photograph. Photo by J. Berta.|
This past weekened, I was at our neighborhood grocery store with my Dad and youngest daughter. We were there to celebrate her birthday and kicked off the day with doughnuts. As we sat in the cafeteria, at the table next to me sat a gentleman wearing a "World War II Veteran" baseball cap.
There are not many of these Veterans left. Everyday, we lose more and more of them. Here is a sobering statistic is from The National WWII Museum:
"Approximately every three minutes a memory of World War II – its sights and sounds, its terrors and triumphs – disappears. Yielding to the inalterable (sic) process of aging, the men and women who fought and won the great conflict are now mostly in their 90s. They are dying quickly – at the rate of approximately 492 a day, according to US Veterans Administration figures."
When I got up to grab my coffee, I shook his hand and thanked him for his service. We struck up a brief conversation and I asked him, "What Theater?" He said Pacific. Come to find out, he was with the 1ST Cavalry Division and their occupation of Tokyo.
Although the European Theater (including North Africa) had ample examples of terror and hardship, the Pacific Theater was a different kind of war. This quote from The Hoover Institution sums it up well: "For the British and Americans alike, the Pacific was hands down the war’s most hated theater in which to fight,..."
As we were wrapping up our conversation, he said, "Let me show you the only thing I brought back from the war." (Or words to that effect.) He then pulled out his key chain from his pocket.
Attached to his key chain was a Japanese identification tag, commonly referred to as a dog tag.
I asked this Veteran if I may take a picture of the dog tag to show my friends. He agreed, yet was puzzled that I had a camera with me. (Like my 77 year-old Dad, he is not a smart phone owner, I suppose.) That dog tag, this Veteran and member of "The Greatest Generation" was kind enough to share with us this memory of a time seven decades ago.
While this Gentleman has to be in his late 80s or older, his eyes had a gleam and a firm handshake. This is a man for whom his memories of World War II are forever linked to his daily life. I also noticed that on his key chain was what I presume to be his dog tag.
I think that his gesture of sharing with me something so personal was a wonderful gift to me. He continued to share by allowing me to offer the photo above to all of you.
Take a moment, if you will, to study it. It is a simple piece of metal, marked with a language foreign to me. This Veteran did not go into details as to how it came into his possession and I did not ask. I suppose in some ways it is as much a part of him now as it was the person to whom it was issued to. I am honored he shared it with me.
I wonder what it is like to have memories from so long ago still so vivid, to be with you everyday. I wonder what it is like to see everyday an item so simple, ordinary even, yet so full of meaning.
Meaning, memories, and I suspect, the burden of history.
Be well my friends,