From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul


Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.

Jane Howard

The last time I had seen Dad was at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, when he came down from Washington to give me my first salute as a brand-new second lieutenant. Dad had gone from War Production Board to the Navy’s Military Government School. Why the Navy, when his four sons were in the Army in places such as North Africa and London? He was always competing with his brood, and this was his way of being “a little bit better.”

A lot of water had passed under the bridge in the year following that first salute. Dad shipped out to Okinawa as second-in-command of military government on that heavily fought-over island. I volunteered for the Bomb Disposal School and, sometime after that six-week course, flew to the Philippines to join the war. My older brother, Joe, went on to the Anzio Beachhead, Royal married a Red Cross worker, and my youngest brother, Bill, went with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) to England. My wife, Julie, was pregnant with our second child, who, some twenty years later, would join the Army (like his dear old dad) during the Vietnam War.

So . . . no chance to catch up with any of my brothers, but what about the guy who gave me my first salute? He was a mere 800 to 1000 miles away from my post in Batanga, Luzon. Could I drop in on Dad and return the salute? I would try.

A bomb disposal squad consisted of an officer and six noncommissioned officers, and was always attached to a larger unit for rations and quarters. I looked up the battalion commanding officer, a good guy, and persuaded him that all of the unexploded bombs and artillery shells found for us each day by G-2 would still be waiting to be defused or blown up on my return.

The colonel agreed to give me travel orders to legitimize my planned junket. The orders, handwritten on the back of an envelope, simply said, “It is o.k. for Lt. Firman to be absent from his post for a week beginning August 17.”

A member of my squad drove me to Manila where I found space on a troop carrier flying to Okinawa. Arriving there a few hours later, I worked my way via thumb to military headquarters, skirting the Japanese lines en route.

Headquarters: Quonset huts surrounded by trimmed lawns and beds of bright flowers, and officers dressed in neatly pressed Navy gray uniforms. And I? Wearing wrinkled suntans, combat boots, a beat-up cap, and packing a .45 pistol on my hip. In addition, I was yellow from Atabrine, a malaria suppressant, and I was sporting a large mustache.

I peeked in, and seeing Dad sitting there, I walked up to his desk and said, “Don’t get up; this is an informal visit.”

He looked up at this stranger, a mere lieutenant telling a full commander not to get up. His face got red and I almost saw smoke coming out of his ears as he looked for a shore patrolman to take this lunatic away.

But as he began to recognize my features, he said, “Is that you, Win?” Surprise, laughter, hugging, and we began a three-day mini-reunion with the war going on around us. My plan worked so well that the visit became the high point of the whole blinking war for me and my dad.

Win Firman

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