As far back as I can remember, fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific meant something monumental to my father, Leland Oliger. It is true, and even he would admit it, war defined him; not because it’s what he loved, but because he became a man.
My father was only 17 years-old when he stepped onto the decks of the USS Eugene. It was on that ship, where he, like many, lost his childhood innocence due to war.
We find this to be true of many of the veterans. On one “Trip of Honor” to Washington DC, Dr. Luanne Cox asked Von Dent, one of our vets, where he grew up and very seriously he stated, “I was born in Arkansas but I grew up on the islands of the South Pacific.” They went to war as teenagers, students, and farmers, but became soldiers, warriors, and men overnight.
It was in the waters of the South Pacific that my dad also learned that the grass wasn’t always greener on the other side. He was ready to go to war because he hated working on the farm, especially picking cotton. But in his boyish and naive mind, he believed that war had to be better than hot, tiring, work on the farm. It didn’t take long for him to realize that Arkansas farm life was a slice of heaven compared to someone trying to end your life.
Returning these warriors back to the places where they fought is extremely satisfying for the veterans. Seeing the gratitude and honor in the countries they liberated makes the loss of their innocence worth it all.
My father died suddenly in 1982, and I regret that he never had the opportunity to go on one of our “Trips of Honor.” Along with his indescribable pride for fighting for his country, he would have enjoyed being with his comrades and remembering how a bunch of boys from the United States of America defeated a global evil to save the world’s freedom. He would have loved it.
Posted by Diane Hight