Tuesday, May 26, 2015

One Last Memorial

Roland was a spoiled brat. No way around it. He was momma's favorite son. She let him get away with anything he wanted, and she always stepped in when dad tried to correct him.

He was bright, and from an early age he knew exactly how to manipulate her. He could embarrass her, break her heart, then just smile and bat those blue eyes, and she couldn't stay mad at him. He knew a quick, "I'm really sorry. I love you, mom" is all it would take to melt her heart and get him off the hook -- again.

Then Roland ended up smack in the middle of World War II. He was Private First Class in the 4th Pioneer Battalion of the 14th Regiment of the 4th Marine Division. The Pioneers were engineers who operated bulldozers and other heavy equipment to prepare and repair roads and airstrips. They cleared minefields and did any number of things required to assist our troops' movements, while disrupting the movements of our enemies.

His battalion saw action in the Pacific Theater, island hopping through the Mariana Islands, Saipan and Tinian. Then the Pacific Fleet re-gathered its strength, and launched a huge invasion on Japanese soil -- a hellish volcanic island known as Iwo Jima.

Early on the morning of the third day of the invasion, two regiments of the 4th Division jumped off in an attack, meeting severe mortar, machine-gun, and artillery fire. After making small advances with heavy losses, they were confronted by intricately laid-out minefields. Roland's 4th Battalion Pioneers rushed in to clear the minefield, a deathtrap expertly placed by the Japanese general who happened to be one of the last of the remaining Samurai. He had fortified the defenses of the island for more than two years prior to the invasion. The Pioneers' only protection was the covering fire from tanks and marine units.

Roland was hit and was evacuated on a DUKW (one of those "ducks" you might have ridden in Washington D.C., the Wisconsin Dells, or some other tour) to a nearby hospital ship.

Three weeks later, the day before my dad was confirmed, two men in uniform knocked on grandma's door and told her that her beloved Roland "died of wounds received in action on Iwo Jima on Wednesday, February 21, 1945."

That's all I ever knew about Uncle Roland, until I had a chance to spend time with his older brother, my Uncle Art, in 1991. He had instructed naval pilots in Corpus Christi, Texas, and bumped into Roland when they both went home during shore leave in late 1944.

Roland was a changed man. With tears streaming down his cheeks he wept in his mother's arms, apologizing for all the pain and hurt he had caused her. He returned to the Pacific assured of his mother's love and forgiveness.

This side of heaven, I'll never know for sure, but I like to think that his experiences in the war, and his chaplain's words of God's unfailing love, had led Roland to repentance, and faith. I hope he also knew the peace of God's forgiveness won through Jesus' suffering, death and glorious resurrection. Roland's experience reminds me again how short and fragile life can be: here one moment, gone the next. Thanks be to God for our victory over death through Jesus Christ. Now may He give us each the courage to share that saving news with the Rolands in our lives.

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