When I was in high school, one of my History teachers gave us all an assignment to interview a veteran of one of the wars that the U.S. was involved in. This assignment lead me and my grandma to the home of my Great Uncle Ira Joy. He was a veteran of World War II and a recipient of the Purple Heart. Our interview had such an impact on me that I can still remember some of the details of what was said even now, and I remember those details every year during this time.
As we walked into his small dark home, I noticed the smell of cigars and mothballs. He had numerous magazines and newspapers stacked on his coffee table, and a large black cat sat at his feet. He was frail, and a man of small build. He sat slumped over in a small brown recliner and he wore a pearl snap shirt and brown polyester pants. As we talked the only thing we could hear were each others voices and the tick-tock of the grandfather clock down the hall.
Private First Class Joy was an infantry man, and saw his first battle at 18 years old. He was smaller than most of the men at 5 foot 6 inches and weighed 125 pounds. This build made him the same size as the Japanese so it was his duty to go down into the tunnels they would hide in and kill whoever was inside. He explained to me the rush of terror he felt every time he went down into a fox hole not knowing what would be waiting on him while inside. He explained; “Those Japs were crazy; even would blow themselves up so we couldn’t get to them first. I was ready for em though, if my presence would be enough to kill one of em, I guess I would die a happy man.” He spoke with such passion and fury as he explained in detail the events that took the lives of some of his good friends. His memory became sharp and the story was being brought to life right before my eyes in the form of the small aged man sitting in front of me.
As the interview wrapped up, he asked me to wait a little longer for just one more thing, as he slowly got up to get something from his bedroom. When he returned, he placed within my hands a small tarnished pocket watch with a Japanese symbol carved into the front of it. The room got very quiet as he lowered his tone and explained to me that during one of his missions, he was lead into a fox hole that placed him face to face with the enemy. They both drew their weapons but Uncle Ira got to his first and shot down the young Japanese man in front of him. He then went through his pockets for any maps or intel and found a small pocket watch on the man. Uncle Ira decided to take it. He explained, “My hatred for the Japs ran deep within me, and I saw them as the enemy, the monster I had to destroy. But when I found this watch, it occurred to me that they were men, just as me, with a cause, and he could have been diggin’ in my pockets too as I layed there dead.” He explained how he never even thought about the fact that they too were men just like him with families back home waiting on their safe return and the pocket watch symbolized this fact. With a tear in his eye he spoke of how he often still asks for forgiveness for the life that he took that day.
About a year after my interview with Uncle Ira, he passed away in his sleep. I will always appreciate that teacher for challenging me to do that assignment and I will always respect Private First Class Joy for the sacrifices he made for each of us. Remember the fallen today and remember those who survived. Take the time to say a prayer for those who fought for our freedoms and always remember the Creator who gave these brave souls victory over their enemies.