MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – This is sort of special.
I know, I am supposed to give you the inside information on politics, the stuff that’s going on in the hallways at City Hall, and the Shelby County Office Building.
Not this time.
Please indulge me.
Memorial Day is when I really think about my Dad, Donald Joseph Matthews.
He served in the Coast Guard in World War II.
He would operate landing barges, bringing troops from the ship to the beach, dropping them off during a firefight, then going back and getting more troops.
Dad was told that if his barge capsized, he was to report to the beach and to the first company he found.
He liked being on a dry ship, always having a clean bed, so he never capsized.
As a kid I would ask him about the war.
He never said anything, other than the usual stuff. You know, it was bad, I saw too much.
Then the years started marching away.
When Dad was in his 60s, only a few months before he died, he looked at me and said “Kid, let’s go out and have a beer.”
And it was over a bottle of Budweiser that the words started tumbling out.
Don Matthews wondered if he was going to go to Hell.
He said during one battle, he was bringing troops in, and somebody saw what looked like a Japanese soldier on the beach.
They started yelling at Dad, “Get him. Shoot him.”
That was his job, and that’s what he did, and the troops landed safely.
He stopped for a minute, wiped a tear from a 50-year-old memory, and continued.
“When the battle ended,” he said, “I went back to the beach to see the guy I shot.”
He was looking for a rifle, or a bayonet, something he could have as a war souvenir.
What he found was the body of a farmer.
He shot and killed a farmer, who was carrying a rake on his shoulder.
“He was cut in two by the bullets,” he told me.
I didn’t say anything, because his words were pouring out. He was crying, and I’d never seen my father cry before.
“I just hope God forgives me,” he said. “I really thought it was a soldier.”
And then I tried to tell him it was ok, and with a dismissive wave, he said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
It was the only time he ever talked about World War II.
He died four months later.
On this Memorial Day, I feel my father is with all of his buddies on the Coast Guard ship Cephius, and everything is ok.
Thanks for listening.