Floating In Wonder


As we approached the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I found my thoughts drift toward a book I read a year ago; a gripping real-life tale that continues to hold my thoughts captive.

The book, "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand, is the true story of a man faced with unimaginable tests of survival, will and inner strength. A story so extraordinary it seems to surpass reality, yet as hard as it is to believe, the tale is real.

It was the spring of 1943 and world was at war. The young athletic Lieutenant, Louis Zamperini, joined his crew on an Army Air Force bomber off the Pacific coast but the airmen never returned to their base. They disappeared into the ocean, leaving only debris, gasoline and blood.

Weeks, months and years of unthinkable struggle for survival on a life raft and ultimately, as a prisoner of war, play out on the pages of the book as Louis is faced with disease, torture and near death. Yet his faith in life and spirit is never broken. This extraordinary man faced struggles most of us could never bare, yet he survived with gripping force.

As I read the story of Louis Zamperini I sometimes found myself personalizing his story, thinking of my own father and his days on the Army Air Force base in Chauboy, India. Though my father never faced the struggles of Louis, I felt myself drift into the scenes, bringing a sense of reality and understanding of the circumstances my father endured.

You see, we are the generation of descendents of World War 2 veterans that are left floating in wonder. My father, like many others, never discussed his experiences of the war. They were men of steal, locking away their memories of wartime and like my father, their memories imprisoned them until death. Louis Zamperini's story gave me an answer to a question I have asked all my life: "What was the war like, dad?"

If your father or grandfather fought in World War 2, you have most likely asked that same question but like many of us, your question has never been answered. And so you search, looking for remnants of anything that will connect a piece to your endless puzzle.

You do not have to be a member of a fee-based website to locate information on your father or grandfather's World War 2 enlistment records. The National Archives has made all WW2 Draft Records available for free on-line. Records of Prisoners of War; Duty locations for Naval Intelligence Personnel and Prisoners of the Japanese Data Files are also downloadable--easily searchable by your ancestor's name.

For many of us, we will never gain the complete narrative of our father's wartime experience but as family historians we can use our research skills to dig through their records in hopes of weaving together their tale.

So we don't have to float in wonder of our father's story.

Keep searching for answers,


In Tulsa, Oklahoma,  Maxine Beatty stared through the living room window admiring the sunlight as it glittered across the carpet of snow. Arriving home from church, Bertha and Nanny could be heard chattering in the kitchen as they cooked Sunday dinner. And the aroma of freshly baked yeast rolls floated from room to room, wrapping around everyone who came near.

A few miles down the road, Paul Capps and his father pulled up the hood of their 1935 Dodge, checking the plugs, then the valves. Moving on to the oil stick, Paul's dad reached for the red rag dangling from his back pant pocket. "Plenty of oil, son. I reckon it might be the radiator." Both men continued their inspection, diligently scrutinizing every part of the engine until each piece was thoroughly examined.

Farther up the road, at the Adair's house, Hazel and her husband "Speedy" unwrapped the newspaper and layed it across the living room coffee table for a lazy Sunday afternoon read. The squeak of the front door caught the attention of both and their son's voice boomed through the house: "Hey mom and dad, I want to tell you about a swell girl I just met!"

The crisp winter wind whipped its tail around the corners of the Jones' white clapboard house in Hawthorne, New Jersey. Clinton Jones and his wife unbuttoned their coats as they entered their front door, shivering from the brisk wind. Retiring from a long afternoon at the hospital visiting their elderly neighbor, Nellie remarked: "Poor old dear. I don't expect her to last much longer."

And then Nellie turned the knob of the radio to listen to the day's news.

As did the Adairs and the Capps and the Beatties.

The four families went about their usual Sunday routines. The day moved as it always had. The sun rose, the clock ticked, the coffee percolated. The sound of the car engines rumbled across the city roads and the thud of the morning newspapers were heard as they slapped the porches of houses from New Jersey to Oklahoma.

And across the Pacific Ocean, a plane with a round red circle on its tail, swooped down from the warm Hawaiian morning sky, dropping an unexpected Sunday Surprise:

A bomb that would be followed by another and another and another...
Seventy years ago on the 7th of December 1941, our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles woke to a usual Sunday morning. But what was to be an ordinary day, ended in the extraordinary. Plans changed, lives were altered and what started as the familiar, ended with the most frightening of events.

We all know the story...but do we?

Be the biographer of your families' Pearl Harbor story. Learn and write where your parents were living; what their morning was like: where they were standing the moment they heard a strange and fear-provoking announcement from their radio.

It was their history. And as the world was altered on that December day seventy years ago, it became our history too.

To learn more on the events of Pearl Harbor, go to PearlHarborOahu.com. And to follow a week long history tour on the seventieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, go to NPS.gov.

And to learn more on the events of your own Pearl Harbor history, go to your family elders to pen their story. So it will not be left to the limitless boundaries of your imagination; as it has with mine.
Keep searching for answers,

(Read about Marine Corporal E.C Nightingale's Pearl Harbor experience aboard the Arizona at EyeWitnessHistory.com)