‘Fair winds, following seas’ to our veterans

Posted May 30, 2010, at 11:03 p.m.

Atlas at hand, I watched “The Pacific” for 10 weeks on HBO this spring.

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks do a wonderful job at producing historical movies and miniseries, and this was no exception.

The Pacific is a big ocean, but this was my dad’s “theater” of World War II, where his Landing Ship Infantry, the LCI 565, was in the battles of Leyte Gulf, Luzon and Okinawa.

The 1st Marine Division was at Okinawa, too, but first it was at Guadalcanal and Peleliu and Iwo Jima. Miserable, muddy, awful places in wartime.

The miniseries didn’t sugarcoat or glamorize it one bit.

During the 10 weeks that “The Pacific” ran on HBO, we lost a lot of World War II veterans, people in their 80s.

Among them Del Merrill who died April 19 — lifelong educator, coach, past president of Husson College. He was with the Fifth Marines at Iwo Jima.

Fran Zelz died April 22 — well-known Bangor architect, one of the troop greeters at Bangor International Airport, the place where he had designed the terminals. He was a Navy gunnery mate on a 132-foot minesweeper at Leyte Gulf, a might small vessel to have as your living quarters on a big ocean.

In September 2005, I joined Del and Fran and 130-some veterans, community members and reporters for a one-day plane trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial on the Mall.

At each end of the glorious monument stands a 43-foot pavilion — one for the Atlantic theater, one for the Pacific.

My dad had been gone three years already by then, but I clutched his dog tags in my hand as I stood in the Pacific pavilion and then sought out the state pillar that reads MAINE.

Memorial Day is the day I miss him most, with its memories of him marching each year in the parades in Sangerville, Guilford and Abbot.

When he couldn’t walk that far anymore, he would ride in one of the cars, wearing his U.S. Navy uniform, so as to be there for the ceremonies remembering all our country’s veterans.

Afterward, we would take his picture in front of his name, Gayland A. Moore Jr., on the Abbot Honor Roll, the one that also lists his brother Carroll W. Moore, World War II veteran of the Army Air Corps; and their brother Roderick M. Moore, Korean War veteran of the Air Force.

A few days ago, I went to the Abbot Village Cemetery with my mother and my husband, Gaelen, to bring flowers for my dad’s grave.

Driving home, Gaelen and I stopped in Dexter so I could put flowers on the grave of my mother’s Civil War ancestor, Alfred Hart, who was born in England.

In Bangor, I often take a walk over to Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Bangor and go down the hill to the grave of Charlie Flanagan, a soldier who died in World War II. His likeness is part of the Maine World War II Memorial at Cole Land Transportation Museum.

This time of year, the American flags show me the graves where veterans are buried.

Now I’ll walk by Fran Zelz’s grave too, and remember that it was a privilege to know him and Del Merrill, and to go on that trip to the World War II Memorial with them.

Del Merrill and Fran Zelz are two of the people profiled in “Quiet Courage: Stories of the Unselfish Dedication of Maine Veterans,” by Don Colson, published by the Galen Cole Family Foundation and available at Cole Land Transportation Museum.

Those profiled are veterans of wars from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Every time I look through the book, I find that I know one or two more people than I thought I did.

When my dad died, I wrote a Family Ties column based on his Navy discharge papers, technically NAVPERS-553, “Notice of Separation from the U.S. Naval Service” — one page of information about the young man who came home a motor machinist’s mate, second class, from World War II.

It listed the diesel schools he attended, the medals and battle stars he earned, his mustering- out pay of $100 in December 1945, and his travel allowance from Boston to Abbot, Maine — $12.45.

You can honor a World War II veteran, whether living or deceased, on the World War II Registry website at www.wwiimemorial.com.

The LCI Association, to which my dad belonged, ran this line in its newsletter when listing LCI personnel who had died. I think it works for all the veterans who have died, whatever branch of service.

Their eternal voyage is done.

They sail now to that port of heavenly rest.

Fair winds and following seas, Shipmates! We’ll see you again!

···

Bill Hayes, a lifelong resident of Brewer, will give a program on “Bits and Pieces: The Way It Was Back Then from the People Who Were There,” at the Brewer Historical Society meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 1, at First United Methodist Church, 40 South Main St., Brewer.

Refreshments will be served and all are welcome.

Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402; or e-mail queries to familyti@bangordailynews.com

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