Reflections on a WWII SeaBee

We’ve just passed the 70th anniversary of D-Day. My family has been watching WWII documentaries on the History channel, including The World Wars series which is one of the best I’ve ever seen. We’re coming up on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI. It doesn’t seem like these events should be so far back in history. Maybe that’s because I still had WW veterans in my life until 2008, namely my Grandpa, Jim Raines.

James Raines, WWII SeaBees

Grandpa, Chicago Navy Pier

He was a SeaBee and was stationed in Okinawa at the end of WWII. That man could build anything … and did!

Build_for_your_Navy

SeaBees Recruitment Poster, WWII

Grandpa never really talked about WWII, even when you asked. I have a few photos of him in uniform and a few photos of Japanese women during the time he was in Okinawa labeled “Geisha”. I even have photos of some of his buddies, although there are no names and he couldn’t remember their names (or wouldn’t tell me) in his later years … just that they survived together.

One story he would always tell was when he got the news WWII was over … he had just finished writing a letter to my grandma. He never signed it and it went unsent. He wrote to her regularly. By then, they had two children. I never saw those letters. I don’t even know if she kept them. I used to search through her dresser when I was a kid hoping to find them, but never did.

I never understood, until later in life, why Grandpa wouldn’t tell me about the war. I was curious and certainly inquisitive, but, at some point, realized it was nearly a lost cause. I think he talked about it sometimes with my dad because I would get snippets second hand. I assume Grandpa simply didn’t think I needed to know about such things.

Over the years, I’ve started realizing things about Grandpa’s life and how it stayed connected to WWII … things I probably should have realized long ago, but never gave any thought to. Sad, I know. He didn’t talk about it, so I didn’t think about it.

30520_Joseph A Beeman Navy Seabee WWII

None of these men are my Grandpa, but they seem vaguely familiar. I often think about the young Jim Raines looking like these men. He was 55 when I was born, so it’s hard for me to imagine him in anything other than overalls and boots! Source: www.VetFriends.com

My husband and I had a lot of conversations while we watched The World Wars series. Most of them centered on how my German grandma didn’t ever want to admit we were German … something that she hung onto even in my lifetime. Others centered on how WWII has impacted society in the last 70 years. We even tried to determine what America would be like today had the Axis powers won. I learned things, as I usually do watching the History channel, that I never learned in school. I’ll be curious to see what Noodle learns about the World Wars when she gets to that age. I hope it’s not as superficial as my history classes.

One thing that struck me square between the eyes as I was watching footage of atomic bombs being dropped is that Grandpa was “downwind” … in Okinawa … and was forever affected physically and mentally by the fallout. I always knew that the physical problems he had … skin lesions, early onset hair loss, thyroid issues, among others were a result of “the War”, but it never occurred to me they were the direct result of atomic bombings.

It’s easy, 70+ years later, to speculate, wonder and say “what if” about the World Wars. Documentaries certainly illicit those conversations. I’ve lost my WWII vet, and we’re on the verge of losing the entire generation. I think I’m drawn to this era because Grandpa wouldn’t really talk about it with me. It’s weird, but I always pay close attention to WWII era photos and footage just in case I can catch a glimpse of a young Jim Raines. I doubt I ever will and I’m not sure I would even recognize him, but I look nonetheless.

Because of him, I have a unique understanding of both the need of and pain from being a part of war. Even though he spoke infrequently of WWII, he still managed to instill in me a deep appreciation for the men and women who have fought to defend this country from its beginning. I often speculate what life would be like in this country had we lost the Revolution and every war since.

 

 

 

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