Today marks 70 years since that fateful Sunday morning that plunged the USA into World War II. Obviously I wasn’t there but that single act of war has had a deep impact on our family ever since.
One of my uncles, Harry Leuck, was a Commander in the Navy. His ship was one of the originally intended targets that Sunday morning but, as I understand from family stories, his ship had
pulled out the night before to make room for one of the ships that was destroyed the next day. Married to a native Hawaiian, Uncle Harry moved his family via ship to Washington DC where he was then posted for awhile. Uncle Harry went on to serve in the Navy throughout the war plus many years after as a career officer. I never really knew Uncle Harry well except for 2 or 3 visits as a small child but I remember as I learned of his service how awe struck I was with his sacrifices and service. I believe ALL of his sons also served in the US Navy.
My father’s other brothers; Charles, Hubert & Robert also served in the Navy and saw action as well during that war.
My mother’s brother, Leon, joined the Army Air Force and was an officer. Unfortunately he was killed during a training maneuver designed to give the pilot night and instrument experience before heading overseas. The pilot became disoriented and flew the plane straight into the ground killing all aboard and not leaving behind any discernable evidence of a plane having been there at all.
Though 29 at the time the war started my father, Norville Leuck, Sr., was disqualified from service due to a previous accident that damaged his hip joint. He was already working at the Kent, WA Boeing manufacturing plant wiring systems on the B17 and B24’s. He stayed working at the Boeing plant as part of his contribution to the war but also spent time working in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and Pearl Harbor to repair war damages.
During the war years several of my aunts and uncles moved to Kent and lived with my parents in their home. My mother told us that they “hot bunked” most of the time – meaning the men and women in the house worked and slept in different shifts around the clock. Some of my aunt’s husbands were overseas leaving them and my cousins there with my parents. It was a very trying time. Everyone suffered and sacrificed for the whole of the country.
Influenced as a young child by the sight of Boeing war birds flying out every day from Kent as well as the stories from his uncles, my brother, Frank Leuck, joined the US Air Force at 19. Frank rose from the lowly ranks of an enlisted man to a full colonel by the time of his retirement about 23 years later. In 1970 Frank left his wife and 6 young children at home to serve for just over a year in Vietnam where he was a forward air control commander and pilot. Shot down at least once as well as loosing other craft to excessive ground fire damage we are lucky to have him among us to this day.
Now the torch of freedom has been passed to another generation of warrior heroes in our family. My nephew, Josh Leuck, served in the US Army having just graduated from specialist school when the September 11th 2001 attacks took place. He retired from the army after about 7 years but not before serving two tours in combat areas in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
We’ve just learned that my brother’s grandson, my grand-nephew, Trent Mortensen, also in the Army, is being sent back to the US after minor injuries sustained in an IED explosion last week in Afghanistan.
My brother, uncles, cousins, nephew and grand nephew all have one thing in common… a passion to serve and to protect the privilege that we all have of living free. While we may not always agree with the reasons for war or the causes we are called to fight in, these men and women serve, often in the worst possible conditions. While it seems like such a small and inconsequential act compared to their service, to these I say Thank You. Thank you for all you’ve done and do for all of us.
This week our local newspaper (the Eugene Register-Guard) has run a 3 day series ending today about the local veterans and heroes of World War II. In these articles I have read of uncommon bravery, of heroes and of people broken and damaged by the experiences they shared. I learned that while its ranks once soared to around 30,000 members, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is disbanding at the end of this month because it now has less than 3,000 members – many too old or unwell enough to travel to their commemoration events. We are rapidly losing the very last of our “Greatest Generation”.
I read each bio and story about these incredible people. The one thing that struck me in each picture and story was that the biggest sacrifice made by those who actually came home was the passion of their youth. Most of these people were pressed into service at an age of anywhere from 15 to 25. At a time when they should have been in school or seeing the world or courting their soon to be spouses or other ways enjoying their youth, they were instead far from home experiencing some of the most horrific things man has ever done to man. Some refuse to ever talk about it again. Some haven’t ever spoken about it because they have tried to forget. Some want to talk but don’t even know where to start. But, one thing is for certain, we need to thank them.
I grew up being taught that every time I see someone in a military uniform that I should thank them. I know that they appreciate it. I also believe they need to know from us how much we appreciate it. So, whether in uniform or whether that uniform has been at the back of the closet for decades, please, thank the veterans in your life. Don’t ever let them think for a moment that we don’t appreciate what they’ve done for us. 70 years ago today Pearl Harbor was bombed and the USA entered the war. 4 days later my sister, Dawn Rae Leuck (Amundson-Damm) was born in a hospital in Seattle. My parents selected her name well before she was born. But the newspaper picked up on the fact that a baby was born during a war time blackout at one of the darkest hours of our nation as the “dawn’s rays” were streaming through the window. The fact that her name was Dawn Rae (dawn’s rays) gave us all hope of success and better times to come. My sister passed away earlier this year – another
hard reminder that we are losing these national treasures.
Just my opinion.