As the soldier from Texas walked by my father, he called, Hey Torbeck, how many lives does a cat have? Nine, replied my father, to which the Texan, Hulett Sells, a Tech Sgt. with the 96th Deadeyes, remarked, Ive had eight. Sells walked on another l00 yards and was hit by a bullet.
The name of Hulett Sells appears on the Roll Of Honor, with nine other men from Co. D of the 386th Infantry killed over 50 years ago on Leyte.
A common thread that seems to run through stories written by children of veterans is the lack of stories told. My father, Edmund Torbeck, was drafted into the Army eight months after he married my mother.
He told us about basic training at Camp Adair, Ore., in the Wilamette Valley, but he did not talk about war. I remember Dad saying that at the end of their training, when the first Jeep reached San Francisco, their deportation point, the last vehicle in the convoy was still at Camp Adair.
As a child, I eagerly waited while Dad would slowly pull open the drawstring of the small ditty bag containing his medals and mementos, including a full-size silk Japanese flag. We knew the flag had come from the helmet of a dead Japanese soldier we didnt ask Dad how he came to have it.
In addition to my father being a veteran, two of my brothers, Ed Jr. and Don, each served tours of duty in Vietnam ; Ed a paratrooper with the First Cavalry and Don with the Quartermaster Corps. My grandfather Rebbe served in France during World War I, and my nephew, Mike Sampson, was sent to Panama during the Noriega troubles.
My nephew does not talk about being shot at in Panama, my brothers do not talk about the jungles of Vietnam and my father did not talk about the terror on the fields of battle in Leyte and Okinawa.
When my oldest son became interested in World War II, he would ask his grandfather questions, and it was Mathews interest that opened the doors to Dads stories of the war.
To Mat, he was Grandpa; to me, he was just Dad. But at a different time, in a far-off land, he was a hero, who, by the grace of God, returned to his family.
Left to guard the ammo dump while his comrades went swimming, Edmund was leaning against a tree when just in front of him was a puff of dust and a pflit then another to the left and then to the right. This kept up for an hour and a half in l5-minute intervals.
Although he searched, he could not find the cause of the disturbance. When the men returned from the river, they immediately took cover, and one of them fired in Dads direction. Above him strapped in the tree, was an armed Japanese soldier. The pflits were the sound of discharging bullets through a silencer.
Another time, l7 men were in a circle studying a map. Dad was the radio man, and as he stepped over to unload the radio against a tree, a shell fell in the circle and all l7 were killed. This may be where Dad got his shrapnel wound in his leg.
This final story takes place in a foxhole late at night. Dad and another soldier were in the foxhole, waiting for what, they did not know. The other man decided to go to sleep and told Dad to do the same. But Dad said that he knew there was an enemy soldier nearby he could smell him.
Not very long after this was said, a Japanese soldier jumped in the foxhole on top of Dad who sat with his gun at ready, finger on the trigger and bayonet pointing up. When the man jumped in the foxhole he fell upon the bayonet, and Dad, in his surprise, fired the gun.
I later learned that this is where Dad came into possession of the Japanese flag. Following the death of our father in l99l, brother Don had the symbols on the flag translated, and what we had imagined to be battle plans were found to be sayonaras and wishes for a safe return from the villagers of the Japanese soldier.
My father was a member of the VFW and American Legion, serving in various offices throughout his life. He participated in many military funerals and Memorial Day ceremonies at South Hill Cemetery.
His was the first military funeral I ever attended. As the uniformed men stood at attention, Taps was sounded and guns fired in a final tribute. Along with the feelings of sadness and loss, was also a feeling of great pride for the man who was my father and who served his country well.
As we honor our soldiers on Veterans Day, I offer a special salute to my dad and all the heroes with their untold stories.