California Forum

LETTERS Veterans Day column

Remembering Dad’s service

Re “A day to reflect on all the stories veterans never tell” (Stuart Leavenworth, Nov. 11): Reading how the World War II experiences of Russell Leavenworth helped to shape his path later in life made me think about my late father, Bob Shellito.

He was born in rural Wisconsin. After finishing college, dad joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and was already a pilot when Pearl Harbor was attacked. By March 1942, he was in New Guinea flying the P-39 Aircobra fighter plane from jungle airstrips where a number of his friends became aces shooting down Japanese aircraft and others were killed.

After 160 combat missions, in 1943 he was reassigned to a military base in Chico and was an instructor pilot for the P-51 Mustang and the P-38 Lightning until the war’s end. That’s when he decided he wanted to live in Northern California, where my family landed in 1968 after my dad retired from the U.S. Air Force.

– Jeff Shellito, Sacramento

Project records vets’ history

I found Stuart Leavenworth’s Veterans Day piece to be very interesting. It reflects my experience both as the son of a World War II soldier and as an interviewer for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

My father, despite being over 30, enlisted and while he did not see combat, he spent the war years in a remote area, away from home and family, in support of the troops that were going into combat. As with a number of World War II vets I have interviewed for the history project, those that did not see combat somehow felt that they had not done their part.

The column also rang a bell in the fact that many of those who experienced combat were reluctant to talk about it. They had never told anyone of their “times in hell.” I interviewed one gentleman who had been involved in several landings in the South Pacific, and he stated that he’d never talked about these things with anyone. I was honored.

Part of the Veterans History Project is to give the vet a copy of his interview. A month or so after I sent the aforementioned vet his copy, I received a telephone call from a man who identified himself as the son of this vet. He informed me that his father had sent him the tape which he had watched. His statement was, “I can finally understand why my father was the way he was.” Additionally, the son stated that he hadn’t spoken to his father in years and that, now, they were again in touch.

Thank you for your reminiscences. These are so appropriate on this day.

– Doug Cooper, Lt. Col., USAF, Retired

Reticence may spare family

Like Stuart Leavenworth, I am the son of a World War II veteran who was reluctant to talk much about his exploits. Additionally, I am a Vietnam veteran and I stayed after the war, like my father, for a full career as a U.S. Air Force pilot. Modern Air Force personnel are typically more insulated from the horrors of war than either their ground-rooted buddies or their forefathers, but we saw some terrible things too, and none of us want to relive those experiences. As you suggested, talking about them is just too close to reliving them.

But we also shared another characteristic that you may not have considered: We did not want to worry our loved ones by sharing any but the most innocuous and muted experiences. They were plenty worried enough. In fact, traumatized might be a better term. My wife was bombarded by media photos and clips from Vietnam just as the wives of today’s warriors are, and that is absolute torture.

My wife saved most of my letters – maybe all, I’m not sure – and every now and then I stumble upon one. I hate that. I can never read the entire thing because it puts me right back into that day, and I begin to relive the experience.

We recently returned to Vietnam, something I always said I would never do. Believe it or not, it was very cathartic. It may not be for some, but it was for me.

Thank you for your article and for remembering our fathers.

– Barry Codron, Fair Oaks

Special bond unites generations

Stuart Leavenwoth’s column was very moving and so true.

My father also served during World War II. He was a young lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a navigator and bombardier in a B-24 in the Pacific theater. Growing up, he told my brothers very lightweight stories about “eating K ration wet beans” in the tropical, rainy, muddy camps, but never the hard-hitting, gut-wrenching stories of combat and survival, the ugly and brutal side of any war.

Of interest is that my son, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, also could not or would not share the realities ... except with his grandpa. Across generations, soldiers have a true brotherhood and can talk to each other. I am grateful that both my dad and my son had each other in a very special relationship.

Thanks for reminding me of this in your column.

– Mia K. Smitt, Sacramento