image of single bird flying over the sea as sunlight cracks clouds

Let Freedom Fly

Dad in sailor suit_peMy dad yearned to become a doctor from the moment he saw Doc Weeks, the county physician, set a leg. At 16, he thumbed his way from Talking Rock, Georgia, to Atlanta, where he worked as an office boy. He was in a hurry; Pearl Harbor had ignited the war, and like millions, he was eager to serve. Dad’s youthful impatience wore down his father, who finally signed the papers so he could enlist at 17.

He tested to be an airplane mechanic. Nevertheless, Dad bumped into some brass and flatly told them he didn’t want to fight the war with a toolbox. He ended up as a pharmacist’s mate on a landing ship tank (LST). It was his first crack at hands-on healing. Covered in blood and with a limited amount of morphine, he treated wounded soldiers on D-Day—and pulled the dead off Utah Beach.

Dad transferred to the Pacific Theater. The typhoons terrified more than the kamikazes. The LST crew burned oil, billowing clouds of smoke to camouflage the ship from divine-wind suicide, but they could not hide from nature’s fury.

A typhoon’s roar deafened, with seas crashing all around. In the valley between 35-foot waves, the sailors stared up at a wall of water curving overhead. Then the ship rode almost perpendicular, surviving the crest before tossed into another valley.

When the ship sailed into the eye, an eerie quiet fell. Flocks of seabirds sought refuge on the tiny metal island. They perched without fear, even within hand’s reach.

My father could not bear what was to come. He scooped up a few gentle creatures and stowed them in shoeboxes below. The typhoon raged again, battering most birds to death against the ship.

Hours later, the sea calmed, and the skies cleared. Dad slipped below and bundled up the birds. Then he ran topside, releasing them to soar.

Life, after all, in the madness of death.



  1. Dr Mustapha Tahir

    It’s interesting. After the war, some who gave their life for their countries went on to become great men and women of Medicine. Continued to serve their country by looking after the sick. Your Dad’s story is very much like that of my Surgery Professor, James Hunter Lawrie. From a life in a naval ship and going into Medicine at Edinburgh. These men and women deserve our gratitude forever. Keep reminding the world of their great sacrifices my Storyteller.

  2. Dr Mustapha Tahir

    Reblogged this on Dr Mustapha Tahir and commented:
    Fascinating Story by the American Storyteller, as always. Great people who sacrifice their lives during the war. At the end of the war, found a calling in a Medicine and spent their life helping the sick. We owe them our gratitude.
    Mustapha Tahir

  3. donnaanddiablo

    What a beautiful tribute to your dad and all of the other brave souls who serve in uniform, Catherine, including my little brother, who served as a plastic surgeon in the Air Force up until last month! We are very blessed….

  4. Kaye Dykes Duke

    You know what? It’s great that number one: You loved your dad to write about him admiringly. Number 2: He was one of our heroes!!! Number 3: (One of the special things to me)…He saved the birds…I sit half a day each day on my patio and watch my bird and hummingbird feeders cause I love the birds!!! I can’t think of much that I love more that God made more than the birds…except my family!!! Your father WAS special. Catherine, I don’t remember if you mentioned if he was still alive or if he has passed on, but either way he really was a dear man for his respect for life…whether for human or for the tiny little birds that I love so much. Thank YOU for the story once again…just thought I’d tell you! Kaye D. Duke

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