A Tribute to Dad
By Jeannie Winter
Enlisting on October 9, 1942 at the age of 38, Friedrich Taake served in the Seabees for three years. As a member of Headquarters Company of the 79th Naval Construction Battalion, Friedrich deployed to the Pacific for two tours of duty. He enlisted as a storekeeper third class. Taake was assigned to the battalion's Supply Department.
During his war-time tour with the Seabees, Taake served on Kodiak Island in the Aleutians, Saipan and Okinawa. Returning to the United States in the fall of 1945, he was discharged on October 3, 1945 at the age of 41. In the span of three years, he had advanced to the rate of Storekeeper First Class, United States Naval Reserve.
Born Friedrich Karl Johann Taake, on 21 March 1904, Dad was among the ranks of every able bodied man in America who answered President Franklin Roosevelt's call to arms after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a day President Roosevelt immortalized as "a day that would live in infamy."
Father served in the U.S. Navy, Headquarters Company, 79th Seabees, during World War II and was stationed, first, on Kodiak in the Aleutian Islands and then on the Japanese islands of Saipan and Okinawa. Dad always claimed the Seabees were considered to be the elite of the Navy - highly skilled professionals in their respective peacetime trades. Following are my memories which were relayed to me by my Father.
Upon induction into the Navy, Dad served his boot camp Norfolk, Virginia. This was to being deployed to the Aleutians. That winter he contracted pneumonia from the cold and damp weather.
The Japanese warlords had set their sights on the conquest of the United States by way of the Aleutians. According to Dad, when the Company arrived at Kodiak, Alaska, known only to the Company as "Island X," tons of supplies and military equipment were heaped in masses of every conceivable supply item imaginable in total disarray. (At the risk of doing a little tattling on myself, I remember seeing "Island X" written many times in those old letters from Dad that Mom kept down in the old cedar chest in the basement when I was little. I doubt myself to be the only little "Baby Boomer" to have peeked in those old war letters.) Dad was always one for enjoying cold weather and, being stationed in a land of overwhelming cold and snow, Dad professed Kodiak to be an enchanting land where he felt right at home with the Arctic cold. I guess Dad had developed thick blood up there in the Aleutians. Other than the native Aleuts (native Eskimos) in a small Eskimo town nearby, the only other inhabitants to share the island with the sailors of the 79th Seabees that I recall Dad speaking of were the Kodiak bears that freely roamed the island. Dad remembered one of the guys in his Company being chased by a Kodiak bear until the sailor was able to climb a tree, but not before the bear deeply clawed his heel. Dad spoke of watching thousands of salmon making their annual run to the spawning grounds and of climbing the mountain behind the barracks on Sunday afternoons.
His tour on Kodiak Island in the Aleutians completed, Mom and Dad were married while Dad was home on furlough on 18 October in the Fall of l944 in Omaha, Nebraska. Dad was shipped overseas to the Japanese islands of Saipan and Okinawa. I reckon the war had its effects in ways that, were it not for the personal journals of those like me, would otherwise remain untold. The war limited Dad's furlough and Mom wanted to be sure Dad didn't get shipped out before they could be married, so my Uncle Paul Eggleston (Mom's brother) and Aunt Gladys went with Mom to meet Dad in Omaha. Dad always claimed that he was the victim of a "shotgun wedding" because Uncle Paul showed up with his shotgun and they locked Dad up in his room to make sure he didn't get away and they were married before Dad could be shipped out to Saipan.
Dad spoke of arriving at Pearl Harbor to the devastating aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while route to Saipan, but they were not allowed to disembark the ship during their brief stopover in Pearl. After the long, arduous 3-week crossing of the Pacific Ocean on a Navy LST, they pulled into the harbor at Saipan. I remember when I was a little girl many times Dad used to say there was no greater, more invigorating air than the fresh, morning smell of the salty sea; but he also spoke of the terrible devastation of war he saw as they landed on Saipan and of seeing the battle's aftermath of bodies heaped by the thousands in piles awaiting burial. He used to speak of a Japanese bomb narrowly missing the ship he was on by about 50 feet as they neared Saipan and said that the noise of the exploding bomb was magnanimous and deafening such as he had never heard in his life. From the rubble of the battle for Saipan, the Navy Seabees constructed the bases and airstrips from which the B-29 bombers would take off for the strategic air attacks on Tokyo. Dad would say, "I'd watch the B-29s take off from Saipan; they'd be gone all night" carrying out the great fire booming raids that would light up the night skies over the cities of Japan and would "return the following morning".
Wars leave scenes forever etched in the memories of those who lived them and one of the most grim scenes Dad was to see on Saipan was the suicide cliffs where so many Saipanese civilians, trapped in a vicious war and told by the Japanese that capture by the Americans would mean rape and torture, had jumped to their deaths. Saipan was but a stepping stone in the Marianas for Dad as the Allies fought their way island by island towards Japan, a stepping stone that would ultimately take Dad from Saipan to the Japanese island of Okinawa - the last stop before Japan itself, where the last and most destructive and devastating battle in World War II was to be fought.
The battle for Okinawa was one of the greatest battles of World War II and Okinawa bore the brunt of the Japanese Kamikaze attacks that Dad was to survive on the island. When I was little a little girl, Dad used to quite often talk about hiding in caves on Okinawa, caves which he said were used by the native Okinawans to bury their dead, and "played Poker while the Japanese were bombing" them and he spoke of the intense anti-aircraft fire that would begin the moment a Kamikaze was sighted. I often wondered if Dad really did play Poker in the caves on Okinawa during the Kamikaze attacks as he used to say he did, but perhaps a little humor was Dad's way of blocking out the pain of war, although I've been told that one becomes oblivious to war when one lives it everyday. Perhaps Dad did become so accustomed to the attacks that he really did play Poker in the caves during the attacks. Dad said the Kamikazes would attack every evening about sunset and that most of the Kamikazes were slaughtered by the intense American anti-aircraft fire before they could strike, and that the Kamikaze attacks were "such a waste of human life."
The Japanese were notoriously known for their crazed and frenzied suicide tactics. Dad used to talk of eating dinner at the camp one day when a frenzied Jap soldier came running out from behind the brushes and was instantly gunned down by American soldiers. Dad stood many watches and spoke of a Japanese soldier charging out of the bushes with an explosive attached to his head - the Japanese soldier blew himself up right in front of the Americans. According to Dad, they had another battalion with them that would go out every day hunting for Japanese soldiers hidden in the bushes. Dad said, "Those guys hunted 'em like rabbits . . . didn't take no prisoners, just opened fire on 'em".
In peacetime, children in their earliest childhood hear Mother Goose stories and rhymes; but for those of us Baby Boomers born so soon after our fathers returned home from World War II, our first childhood stories were the war stories that our fathers had just lived.
Dad was on Okinawa, about 325 miles off the Japanese island of Kyushu and less than 375 miles from Nagasaki, when the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August of 1945. With the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany and the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the signing of Japan's unconditional surrender was held on board the deck of the United States Battleship USS MISSOURI on September 2, 1945. Dad was transported home from Okinawa two months later through the port of San Francisco on board the USS Cunard Line, which was contracted by the Government to bring the troops home by the thousands, and I was born the following September of 1946, one of the first post-War babies to be born in what was to be called "the post-War baby boom". Despite World War II, the German heritage survived in my father's family and the happiest memories of my life were growing up around the old German settlements along the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa where my grandparents lived.
After Dad came home from the war and I was born, the process of rebuilding from the war was just beginning for Mom and Dad. We lived with my Mother's step-father, "Grandpa Moraine", until he died when I was four years old. I remember living in the old house and "Grandpa Moraine" and the old house remained standing for several years later but, like the war itself, it, too, has finally passed into history.
One of the earliest memories of my life is standing along the edge of some street in Des Moines near Aunt Esther and Uncle Dick (Lyons) old house. I think we'd been over to their house that day and I can still picture their old house in my mind. There was some kind of parade and I remember the troops marching by dressed in full military uniforms and carrying their big rifles (Armed Forces parades were common when I was a little girl) and the military armored vehicles driving down the street. Someone was standing beside me, holding my hand and pointing, and saying "Look, Jean Ann! There's your Uncle Dick.", and I've racked my brain over and over throughout the years trying to recall who that someone was. I distinctly remember how proud I was as Uncle Dick marched past. Having been a veteran of the Spanish-American War, Uncle Dick was a much older man and died when I was quite small, but that day has been etched in my memory forever.
Mom had kept all the old love letters Dad had written her during the War in an old cedar chest down in the basement of our house on 48th Street. When I was first learning to read, I used to practice this new elementary skill on those old love letters Dad wrote to Mom during the war. Instead of Mother Goose rhymes, Dad's World War II letters and pictures were my first childhood readers. That old cedar chest sat upstairs in my old bedroom at Dad and Mom's house (the white antiqued cedar chest upstairs), but Mom long ago threw away all the old war love letters (or so she said) after she discovered me giggling over one day. Dad had kept all his original 79th Seabees photos from Saipan and Okinawa in the old chest, too, and I used to look through those old pictures over and over and over again when I was little (before I could even read). Last year when I was in Des Moines, I got out Dad's old photos of Saipan and Okinawa during World War II, arranged them in time order and placed them in a nice photo album to be handed down along with all the other family history I've collected for our future generations. Dad had long forgotten about the old photos for years until I showed him the album I placed them in. He got quite a kick out of looking through them and said it sure brought back memories, though he remembered most of those memories in a thoughtful silence which sought neither praise nor glory for the sacrifice he made. The old letters have gone, but the memories and nostalgia have remained for me throughout the years.
Being one of the first of the Post-War Baby Boomers, I have always had a tremendous nostalgia for that period of time. Dad gave me his old Navy issue blanket that he carried with him throughout World War II - the blanket I used to drag out of the old cedar chest and play with when I was little. I also have the old Scrapbook of original newspaper articles of the battle for Okinawa that Mom cut out and placed in the scrapbook in 1945 while Dad was on Okinawa. Years ago, when I was five or six years of age, Dad antiqued the old cedar chest, which later became my toy box and eventually my Hope Chest. That old Hope Chest will be passed down to my son and his future generations, together with my father's neck chain with the Crucifix and his "dog tags" still attached that he wore throughout the war, and his 79th Seabees photos and "Cruise Book."
Television had just come into being and we first "Baby Boomers" grew up with "I Love Lucy," "Jack Benny," "Father Knows Best," "Leave It To Beaver," "Lassie" . . . and the Cold War. Germany was divided and the threat of Communism loomed over us. Television brought the world to us and we watched in our living rooms as then Russian Premier Nikita Kruschev pounded his fists on the table at the United Nations and we heard him defiantly shout with the firmest of conviction, "We will bury you! The day will come when your children and your Grandchildren will live under Communism!" And that day was forever etched among our childhood memories.
With the coming of television, the Cold War and the Arms Race with the old Soviet Union became as much a part of our childhood as nickel and dime ice cream cones. Radio and TV programs were always being interrupted for Civil Defense testing and "Duck and Cover" drills were a common occurrence during my Grade School years. Bomb shelters were set up around the city in the event of nuclear fallout. Each shelter was marked with a yellow and black triangle on a sign. My Aunt Esther (Dad's sister) used to like to take my cousin and I downtown on Saturdays for lunch at Younkers Tearoom. Despite the end of World War II, the world we first baby boomers were born into was still a very unstable world and many times I walked past the "Fallout Shelter" signs on the buildings in downtown Des Moines and worried to myself that, with all the other people in the city, there wouldn't be enough room for me in a shelter if we got bombed. That was a very big worry for a little person in those days. And yet, to so many of us like me, who were fortunate enough to have our fathers return from World War II, our fathers were our childhood heroes and we knew they would always protect us from the evils of the world. More than that, they gave us our hope in the future. I remember how I loved to sit and listen to my mother play the old World War II songs on the piano and, every now and then, the haunting words "Dear One, the world is waiting for the sunrise" still whispers in my heart.
Dad was always so proud that he served in the Navy Seabees in World War II and, at the age of 92 years, was called to eternal life on 29 September 1996. These written memories are lovingly shared in honor of my father, Fred J. Taake, Headquarters Company, 79th Seabee Construction Battalion, World War II.
Lazy days near the little
Walking on the beach along
Tinsel and toy soldiers on a
Copyright © 1997 Jeannie Winter.
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