Charles C. Shaw, my father, was a World War II Marine. That memory, and all that goes with it, invariably unleashes deep emotions and the threat of tears because it embodies so much about the Greatest Generation guys, young men who considered their military service a badge of honor and who wore their military identity with quiet pride. I grew up knowing that the Marines were heroes because my dad told us about his "buddies."
Dad and my uncles were great story tellers. The four brothers were in different branches of the service, and the competition between them to prove which branch was "best" filled many a fascinating evening in my grandparents' living room or out on the porch.
Childhood memories include sitting in the background hoping not to be noticed so that I could stay up past my bedtime to listen to their stories. Their tales were both funny and poignant; they glossed over the sacrifices made and they didn't dwell on the horrific aspects of the war. But I could read between the lines, and I was so proud of my father and his brothers.
Even though nobody mentioned it, and I was a mere child, I knew that tragedy surrounded Uncle James’ experience in the Army, and I knew that the uncles' raucous laughter covered deep emotions about harrowing experiences that they couldn’t talk about. But those Shaw brothers always saw humor in every situation and always expressed joy in living!
I poured over my dad's postcards and his incredibly mushy letters to my mother. Those letters epitomized love and romance for me; as much as anything else I can remember, they shaped my view of what love and marriage are all about –– wholehearted, passionate devotion to each other and intense longing to be together.
My mother's trip from Georgia to San Diego to see my father off to action in the South Pacific was a pivotal event in their lives. Such a trip was a major undertaking in those days and indicates volumns about their relationship and the poignancy of such wartime separations. This was the first time I stayed with my grandmother –– and one of the few times that I ever stayed with anyone other than my parents.