Remembering the war fallen: friend and foe
My Tufts College adviser was a young man by the name of Roy Phillips. Roy Phillips was the New England cross-country champion. We may have had a few words to say to each other before the race started, but once the gun went off all you’d see of Roy was his back as he led the field on the first turn.
The year was 1941 and World War II had begun. Adolf Hitler was running amuck in Europe and everyone was scrambling to see what he could do in the coming conflict. Most of the boys my age joined ROTC classes.
Roy believed that Hitler could be beaten only on the battlefield. In short order he was commissioned private and issued a rifle.
Roy Phillips walked into the salt water off a landing boat in Normandy, and fell mortally wounded by German machine gun fire.
Now Roy lies at peace beneath one of thousands of crosses in one of military burial grounds just off the beach where he was killed. Visitors to those cemeteries with their countless crosses say they are sights you never forget.
At Tufts, Roy was president of the Student Episcopal Church Club. We had a communion service at 7 every Wednesday morning. He and I were Minister Hall’s altar boys.
Now, Roy Phillips is a memory, a guide to urge me to make my life perfect: Roy Phillips, Christian soldier, we remember you on this Memorial Day.
In the course of the fourth quarter of the war, my boat, the Sub-chaser 1363, provided convoy protection for Allied ships from Australia to Okinawa. For the most part, this was a tranquil duty requiring those standing watch to be alert and keep their eyes open.
At the Palau island in the fall of 1944, the ’63 gave cover to an invasion force striving to capture the southeast corner of Peleliu. In the course of one night, several small Japanese boats were discovered with soldiers seeking escape from one small island to another. In the pitch black of midnight, cannon fire sank all the Japanese escape boats.
Next morning dead Japanese soldiers floated among our ships. I leaned over the railing of our boat, looking straight into the open eyes of the boy soldier.
Just a boy, a youth with family back home, his lifetime still well out in front of him. Poor boy, poor boy.
We remember you, too, on this our Memorial Day.