Monday, May 18, 2009

Memorial Day

Recently I received an email from the UW’s NPR station KUOW asking what or whom I think about for Memorial Day. It bothers me that for most Americans Memorial Weekend is a long weekend to get away. For retailers it is an excuse to entice people into stores for sales. For me Memorial Day is one of the special times of the year that I pay tribute to my father, Conrad R. Frieze, and the Greatest Generation that included his brothers and brother-in-law. All of them were in the Navy during WWII. My father and his older brother Richard were on the Island of Oahu at Kaneohe Naval Air Station on December 7th 1944.

In an autobiography he left for us, my father describes the confusion of waking to the Japanese attack which struck Kaneohe before moving on to Pearl Harbor, his panic for the safety of his older brother who had worked the night shift at the hangers that housed the PBYs stationed there, the joy of finding him alive, and the fury with which they fought back with a machine gun they mounted in the waist hatch of a PBY.

When I was a child I assumed that all daddies were brave. They saved the world and then came home to raise families, become aeronautical engineers (I was raised in Bellevue and most daddies were) and build a great nation.

It was not until I had boys of my own the age that my father and his brother had been that day, as the first shots of American involvement in WWII were fired, that I realized that they had been babies. Now I look at a photo I have of the two of them standing in a bomb crater with their machine gun, shielding their eyes from the sun and scanning the sky for more zeros, and I wonder at their youth.

It would be a few hours before news of the attack would reach their mother who was visiting her own mother in the Missouri Ozarks and longer still before their telegram telling of their survival would reach their parents back in Vancouver, WA. My grandmother told me how that night she lay in bed with a cousin and listened to reports on the radio and wondered if her boys were still alive.

My father went on to fight in the battle of Midway as a PBY gunner and afterward received a cap device from a captured Japanese officer who was glad that my father had not shot him and his companions in a lifeboat which my father’s plane circled until an American ship could take them aboard. Many years later my father tracked down that Japanese officer who was by then a retired admiral. My father offered to return the cap device, but the admiral told him to keep it as his war trophy. They became friends and exchanged visits to Tokyo and Seattle.

In 1945 my father married my mother in Vancouver, WA. He was stationed on the Island of Guam for a time and then left the Navy to attend college. He graduated from Oregon State with a degree in aeronautical engineering and went to work for the Boeing Company. He worked on the B-52 program and participated in operations Redwing and Hardtack in 1956 and 1958, testing atomic bombs in the South Pacific. He worked on the 707 program and was the “voice of the 727” when Boeing sent it on a world tour that last six months. My best friend’s father, Harley Beard, was at the controls of the plane for that trip. My father also worked on the 737, 747 and 757 programs before retiring to Sandy Point near Bellingham.

Along with his birthday, Father’s Day, Veteran’s Day, and December 7th, Memorial Day is a day for me to reflect on the nineteen year old boy who frantically searched for his brother and then teamed up with him to defend our nation. I am sorry my father and his brothers are gone, but I am honored to be related to them.

Memorial Day is more to me than a day off from work or school. If it means more to you, too, check out my post on the In Your Neighborhood blog spot of the Tacoma News Tribune about another veteran, the brother of my best friend.


Stephanie Frieze said...

One thing I forgot to explain is exactly how pivitol the attack on Pearl Harbor was for my father and how different his life, my life, might have been. He was scheduled to take an exam to enter Annapolis which was his dream. The exam was scheduled for December 8th, 1945. Turned out that he was otherwise engaged that day.

Stephanie Frieze said...

Correction, December 8th 1941

Lorraine Hart said...

Life just turns on a dime doesn't it!

Stephanie Frieze said...

Yes, it does. I think about how my father's life might have been if he'd been able to go to Annapolis, but he got to do so much with Boeing that I am sure things turned out for the best.