A Lesson Learned from a War Hero and Recalled on Memorial Day

June 1, 2012
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By Paul Frisco

I grew up during that happy time before the war when we were all so young. When the future was only as far as tomorrow and our only goal was to go on to the next year at school. We lived in a great town and life was wonderful. Then came the war and that changed everything forever.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor I was 16 and wanted badly to get into the war and I tried but was turned down, told to go home wait until I reached 17. That hurt. So many of my friends were being taken into the Army, Navy, and Marines. All I could do was bide my time, watch and wave goodbye to those who were called.

Life at home was not the same, neither was school or town. Every day our numbers were getting less. Seeing familiar faces leaving was not easy.

My days were listless. I was so concerned with getting through each day so that tomorrow could come sooner. School didn’t mean all that much anymore. It was just a place where time passed by more quickly. At home my calendar had each day that passed X-ed out in red crayon. Yes, I was that anxious to be a part of the war.

One day I went to see a movie with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. They also had a newsreel showing scenes of the attack on Pearl Harbor. That’s when I saw him, my first hero of the war.

I had such a sense of pride as I watched this lone sailor manning his machine gun, firing at planes attacking his ship, the USS Arizona. I saw the intensity on his face as he trained and fired his weapon. It is a sight that has stayed fresh in my mind. That lone black, white-clad sailor doing his best to keep the enemy at bay. There he stood amid the carnage of a sinking ship, fallen shipmates, eyes focused on the Japanese. That scene was on screen for less than a minute. If you were watching and blinked you missed it. I caught and locked it into my brain.

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Like most growing boys I had my heroes: Superman, Tarzan, Charlie Chan, Lindbergh, Wiley Post, Pete Reiser and Pee Wee Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Tommy Harmon of Michigan, and Paul Robeson. Robeson played some football for Rutgers and sang some. No one has ever sung Wagon Wheels or Old Man River to his equal. He also made a few movies and played on Broadway.

These were my heroes until that Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941.

Since that day of infamy a new crop of heroes came into my life. First came Dorie Miller, then Doug Munro, Reinhardt Keppler, Butch O’Hare and John Basilone. There were others but the list is too long to say. It was Dorie Miller who got there first and has stayed to this day.

All of these gentlemen fought and died for our country during those terrible early months. They fought and died, every one. In the process they managed to win a Congressional Medal of Honor or the Navy Cross. That is what they had in common, to die for their country, our country. Each came from different ethnic backgrounds. All were white except for Dorie Miller.

I don’t know that I can convey my pride in Mr. Miller. To let you feel what I felt for that man standing alone, his ship bombed and sinking, strafed by swarms of Japanese planes. In that film clip he was defiantly gritting his teeth, fingers squeezing the trigger, sending his bullets into the enemy. I couldn’t wait to enlist, join the fleet, and sail with his likes. And, when it came to pass I knew I sailed with a giant.

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There was this sense within me that he, Dorie Miller, would be with me when it came time to man my battle station and face the enemy. This may sound corny and trite. Take my word, it is true. When enemy planes came to destroy my ship and shipmates, it was that image of Dorie Miller at Pearl Harbor that sustained and saw me through each ordeal. It was he who would not allow me to break and run.

Mr. Miller saw me through the war and it was from him that I learned to stand up and fight for what you believe.

This is part of the speech Paul Frisco of Middletown delivered Monday, May 28, during the ceremony to commemorate Memorial Day in Sea Bright.

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