By June Allen
November 11, 2005
And as I sit here now, I think about Ketchikan's veterans, the men that I knew and know. The ones that stick in my mind are too numerous to mention. But I particularly think of the late Tom Carlin. Tom asked for my help some years ago in writing a his bio for a national publication. And even today I can't think of him with anything but awe and admiration. We all saw him in every Fourth of July celebration, in his old uniform which still fit! He wasn't a big man but he had a huge heart, and a long memory!
Tom Carlin was all of 16 years old when World War II broke out! He was a small, skinny child in the Depression-era Midwest when the enemy attacked Pearl Harbor and sank or damaged those nineteen American ships and installations, killing 2,300 brave young American servicemen without warning! One of those was a Ketchikan boy, Navy Ensign Irvin Thompson, 24.
Tom Carlin got a parent's permission and enlisted! He was given a rushed and very brief training somewhere in the Carolinas and then headed for San Francisco and a troop ship to the South Pacific. Tom always chuckled a little when he mentioned that he could take his rifle apart and put it back together again with his eyes closed, but never fired it until he arrived in Australia! From there, he and his fellow trainees were almost immediately shipped to the island of Guadalcanal, one of the first and toughest battles of that long and deadly war.
What has always stuck with me is his mentioning that, after the island was secured for the U.S. forces one year later, one of Tom's fellow soldiers celebrated his sixteenth birthday! And all of them, those teenagers and older boys had three more years of war still to go. Those young American boys and men who fought that war were there for the Duration as they fought from island to island up the Pacific until finally, in 1945, we accepted the surrender of Imperial Japan!
How could anyone not respect, almost revere that American courage, that fortitude, that spirit that tells more plainly than any words or poems or songs what our country is all about! And that was just WWII. What about all those who went before, the vets of all our conflicts. Did you know that our own Ketchikan post of the American Legion had, at its founding in 1919, a Civil War veteran as a member? I don't recall if he was North or South and don't care. He served. And did you know that there was no draft in Alaska during World War I, because so many Alaskans had already enlisted?
I was a goofy teenage girl in WWII, but I haven't forgotten a minute of it! I know where Guadalcanal is, and most of the other battle sites. We had a slogan back then, "Remember Pearl Harbor!" Well, I guess I did and still do. And I honor every one of you service members who fought for us and what we believe in over the years. I salute you!
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