Saturday, May 29, 2010

In Memoriam*

As Memorial Day weekend gets into full swing, I would like to take a moment to remember and thank all of those who have served and died for this nation. They made the supreme sacrifice so that others may continue to live free.

And I would like thank one soldier in particular - my uncle, Earl G. Thurman. He passed away a few years ago after living a long and fruitful life, but he almost did not get the chance to live that life. At the age of only 19 years old, he answered his country’s call to service during WWII and went as an Army soldier to the Pacific theatre. Shortly thereafter he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and spent four hellish years enduring daily torture, slavery, and starvation. There was no “Geneva Convention” in a Japanese prison camp, so at the age where most kids are worrying about freshman English finals, he was witnessing and enduring unspeakable horrors including having to watch a fellow prisoner die of rabies. He was well into his 70’s before he would talk in any detail about his experiences.

He was quite simply my hero. He survived. He survived by his guts and because of his deep faith in God. I did not know until he died, and I read the news articles posted at his funeral, that none of the prisoners knew what was going on outside their prison camp. During his inprisonment, there were no Red Cross visits or humanitarian relief, only enslaved labor and torture. My uncle had no idea that we were winning the war, but he had faith that God would not forsake him. Then one day his prayers were answered, and his guards and torturers left. They just walked away. Shortly after that, the American airplanes began to fly over. God had not forsaken him and soon he and his fellow prisoners were on a ship for home. He returned to his small town in Texas at the age of 23 years now 6’3” and 110 lbs. My grandmother spent a long time fattening him up on her good Southern cooking and he got medals and his picture in the local paper. He went on to marry and to have a daughter, to graduate from college, and to spend the next 60 years honoring his family, his country, and his God.

I was 30 years old before it occurred to me how young he was when he was taken prisoner. I know that not a day went by that he did not think about his experience, but it never stopped him and never slowed him down. And he never lost his faith in God. It was a revelation to me and, ever since when I think life is sending me lemons, I think of him. It puts everything back into perspective. Bless you, Uncle Earl. I miss you, but I know that you are at the right hand of God and I hope you are getting to play lots of golf.

*With a few changes, this was first posted on May 24, 2009.


AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Let me second that. We owe more than we will ever be able to repay to everyone who has ever sacrificed for this country.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather served in WW2 but I could never write such a touching tribute. For some reason, as much as I'd like to sit him down and interview him for posterity (audio, video, the works), part of me is afraid to do so. Something about reopening old wounds. I also have an uncle who served in Vietnam.

My cousin is currently in the Navy and I wish he were here for Fleet Week. We all supported his decision (and he fully supports all the ridiculous shenanigans I do). :-)

BevfromNYC said...

Scott - Thank you Scott. In a way, it's my penance for not having my epiphany before he died. I was lucky because someone did sit my uncle down and his experience ended up a a chapter in a book of WWII stories from different angles.

Sit your Grandfather down and talk to him about it. He might not want to talk, but ask him anyway. Maybe he thinks no one wants to listen to some old war stories.

Aren't cousins great!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, My German grandparents were actually on the other side and then ended up in East Germany until they escaped in the 1950s. Sadly, I never got to speak to my grandfather before he died -- I was young. And my grandmother refused to talk about the war until near the end of her life. But when she finally did start talking about it, it was pretty stunning. I've actually written a column about it, but just haven't published it. Maybe I'll take another look at it and publish it tomorrow -- it would be well timed, it's about WWII slowly fading away from us.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - I look forward to it if you do! How did they escape?

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, They were Austrians, which was key.

At the end of the war, my grandmother was in Dresden in the east zone. When my grandfather was released from the POW camp, he joined her and became the chief of surgery at the main hospital in Dresden.

Fortunately or unfortunately, he was never one to follow rules. So he soon found himself in constant trouble and spent many nights being dragged to police headquarters by the STASI. This eventually became too much for my grandmother who told me "I knew that if this kept up, one night he would not come back." At the same time, they were very upset that my mother and her brother were being indoctrinated by the school system.

So in September 1959, they decided to leave. Fortunately, they held Austrian passports, which gave them permission to travel. One day they left and never went back. They even snuck out money in a fake cast.

They moved to West Germany, where both continued working as doctors.

Writer X said...

Bev, your uncle sounded like quite a guy. Men who served in WWII from the Depression era were truly remarkable, to say the least. I'm glad you got to hear his stories because we can honor them by passing on their stories to the next generations like you've done in your tribute here. Thanks, Bev.

StanH said...

Great tribute Bev!

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thank you Bev, for sharing your Uncle's story.
I am in awe of Heroes like him.

Have a blessed Memorial Day.

DCAlleyKat said...

Wonderful! And to my husband, who gave up his youth to serve this country having only arrived on its shores a scant two months before enlisting in United States Army - 1964-68...salute!

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