I remember the cold and blustery day when I closed my eyes and said a little prayer that He would give me the strength to get through the task at hand.
It was extremely hard to sort through my Aunt Bobbie’s possessions following her death, particularly since it was more like sorting through two generation’s keepsakes. My family has never been very good at throwing out our “stuff,” so there was a mixture of both Aunt Bobbie’s precious memories mingled with those of my grandmother. Thank goodness we are packrats, or I wouldn’t have this story to share with you.
I found “the letter” in the family Bible. You know the one that everyone has … gold leaf nearly worn off and the binding so fragile that it’s held together with masking tape. Ours has silver duct tape, too. The book protects an assortment of obituaries, wedding and birth announcements, and other newspaper clippings wedged between the pages. I picked up Granny’s handwritten recipe for Louisiana Pecan Pie. It sounds like a strange place to keep a recipe but not if you had known my Aunt Bobbie.
Although I’d thumbed through the family Bible many times as I grew up, I’d never noticed “the letter.” After keeping it secure for all those years, did my aunt move it to the one place she was sure I’d find it? I don’t know. But, I do know with Aunt Bobbie, everything had a reason.
The three pages are as yellowed with age as the memories inked on them. It’s written in a precise yet manly flourish with a black fountain pen scripted on light weight “air mail” stationery.
As I slowly unfolded the fragile pages, an odd sensation of calmness and serenity settle around me. I demanded that my emotions take a back seat and allow me privacy to read the letter, thus getting to know my Uncle Vick, Aunt Bobbie’s brother.
July 29, 1944
I wish it were possible to talk to you and tell you what I have to say.
I’m telling you so you can tell Mom. I don’t know how she will take it and I don’t want her to be alone when she gets the news. I want you to see that she doesn’t worry about me because there is no cause for it. I am in good condition now but I was wounded worse than I let you know.
I am perfectly content and quite happy. The only thing I regret is having to leave the Marine Corps. My days in the service are few but I am happy that my discharge is honorable.
I landed on the Island of Saipan with the assault wave. I made it almost through the campaign but my luck ran out and I got in front of a Jap Machine gun. I took four bullets in my left leg and one in my left arm. My arm is completely healed but I wasn’t so lucky with the leg. This is what I’ve been trying to say. To save my life they had to remove my left leg. In other words I only have one leg. Don’t feel sorry for me and don’t worry.
Today thanks to science a man doesn’t have to worry because they have artificial legs that a man can walk on just as normal as ever. He can dance, work, walk, run and do most anything else any other man can do. I don’t feel badly at all. I take it as just something that had to happen and I thank God I am alive.
I’ll be in the states soon. I will be in California for some time. After the leg is healed it takes a long time to get the stump tough enough for the leg to be attached. But I think I will get to come home for a while. Possibly in about three months. It won’t be the home coming I wanted but we are going to have lots of fun aren’t we? We can paint any town just as red as anyone else.
I haven’t told Naomi (his wife) yet and I don’t want Mom to tell her. That is my job. How I do it is something I haven’t figured out as yet.
Don’t write anymore until you hear from me again. Tell Mom the same thing. I expect to have a new address and it takes mail too long to catch up with me.
Keep Mom from worrying about me. Keep your chin up and we’ll all be happy.
I have to close now. I’ll be thinking of you and loving you,
Always, your Bud,
PS: Tell Dad first. Maybe he can help. I’ll tell more next time. Love always, Vick
Through blurry eyes and swallowing a lump in my throat much too big to go down, I read the letter twice before returning the yellowed pages to its resting place. The most appropriate place I knew to stow the treasure … our family Bible.
The letter had been written sixty years ago, in a faraway country, by a Marine fighting for our democracy.
Today I forced myself to reread the letter, as I prepared to share his story. I thought about the hundred of thousands of other servicemen that sent home similar letters.
In reflection, I didn’t get to know Uncle Vick while he was alive. His pictures show a handsome man, full of life and laughter. The family storytellers told of how he survived that horrid day lying amongst a pile of fallen American heroes and praying to God. I wonder if he prayed for survival or for a quick death? Only God knows.
I’m sorry that I missed the opportunity to really get to know him, but in 1952 God called him home earlier than the family planned. Uncle Vick was laid to rest at the age of 33 in the National Cemetery in Fresno, California.
In the six decades since Uncle Vick poured out his heart and soul and his fears and love to his sister, my aunt, we’ve seen the end to World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, Desert Storm, September 11th, and the war in Iraq.
For centuries our servicemen have given their limbs and their lives so fellow countryman can enjoy democracy and have the opportunity to “…paint any town just as red as anyone else.”
I’m thankful, Aunt Bobbie, for leaving your brother’s letter in a place where you knew I’d find it.
Because God answered the prayers of Victor C. Johnson, U.S.M.C., on that dreadful day on the Island of Saipan, I now know my uncle – a man of courage and convictions, a heroic, honorable Marine who did not look back in regret for an instant after losing a limb for his country, a husband, brother, and son with compassion and tremendous love for his family and country.