Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pearl Harbor, How it Impacted My Family & the Family Dog

Seventy years ago, December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. That day altered the course of history and lives of hundreds of thousands of families, mine included. I wrote about that in my book, Follow the Dog Home. Right after the attack, my grandfather, a Navy reservist, prepared to join the war effort. His courage, patriotism and sacrifice were noble, but it came with a price. It forced a move that broke our family up for a while. And we weren't the only ones. This happened to almost everyone we knew.

While the war raged on, and fathers were off serving, our family dog at the time, Dee Dee, did a tremendous service too. She just loved my dad's family and comforted them when so much was uncertain, and the lives of those they loved were in peril. Dee Dee, and every dog my family has had since, has done pretty much the same thing: been there for us, in good times and bad; a true constant in an ever-changing world.

Dee Dee, 1941,
Wellesley, MA

Below is a reprint of an excerpt of Follow the Dog Home. I posted it on my blog last month, but considering the historical meaning of December 7th, and how the attack on Pearl Harbor reshaped American life and my family's too, I just had to share it again.

Excerpt from Follow the Dog Home book
As told by Bob Walsh:

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, sending shock waves across the globe, the U.S. mainland, and certainly down Atwood Street. For my dad and a lot of men, the attack stirred something inside. Dad wanted to do something about it. Eventually he did, with ramifications that would affect us all. My older sister remembers Dad becoming very quiet after Pearl Harbor and having discussions with my mom about what he was going to do. We’re pretty sure the unfortunate circumstances of the war gave Dad a chance to fulfill what, for him, was unfinished business.

Dad went to the United States Naval Academy and graduated in 1924. Most men who went to
the service academies back then were expected to make a career out of the military. But while at Annapolis, Dad’s eyes deteriorated. It didn’t affect his studies, but it would have a lasting impact on his military career. His poor eyesight meant he couldn’t serve on warships. That essentially put the kibosh on Navy upward mobility. 

With his career advancement limited, Dad was given the option to resign from active duty and join the Reserves upon graduation. That is what he did.

After a few months of cooling his heels and successfully playing cards with his friends, Dad joined his dad at the phone company. The telephone industry was our family business and nearly everyone else’s back then. Grandpa (Daniel Walsh) got Dad the job. That was how things worked. Dad’s return to active duty during the war came with a caveat. His job in communications at AT&T was considered “essential” to the war effort. His superiors didn’t quite understand why he thought he could better
serve his country in a capacity different from what he was already doing. Clearly, Dad wanted more.

In the spring of 1942, Dad left for the Navy. It was a
sad time for us, but we were very proud of him. He still
couldn’t be on a warship because of his eyes, so he was
assigned to Solomons Island, Maryland, the initial base for
training crews in amphibious operations. The training at
Solomons Island and at the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base
in Little Creek, Virginia—where Dad later served—would
play pivotal roles in the amphibious assaults in places like
Normandy. When his work was done in the Mid-Atlantic
region, he would later serve in Hawaii.

The Walsh Family, 1944:
Back row: Albert Walsh, Jr., and Marie Beth “Boots”
Front row: Bob Walsh, Elizabeth Walsh, and Dick Walsh

Joining the war effort was a family affair filled with upheaval and uprooting. When Dad left, we moved
from Wellesley to Providence, Rhode Island. We moved in with Momma and Poppa MacAdam, my maternal grandparents. It was especially tough on my older siblings because they had to change schools. That’s never easy on anyone.

While the rest of us missed our dad and worried about our future, Dee Dee was in doggie heaven in the
home on the one hundred block of Benefit Street near Brown University. Poppa Mac doted on that dog and took her everywhere he went, including to work. Poppa Mac was a tough Scotsman who smoked sweetsmelling tobacco in a pipe. If you were looking for him, you could just follow your nose. Or you could call out Dee Dee’s name and retrace her steps. She would lead you to him because she was always with him. When he left for work as a night watchman at the Walsh-Kaiser Shipyard,
Dee Dee walked with him. She’d stay at the shipyard for a while before walking back home, arriving promptly each night at eleven. And then one day Dee Dee disappeared.

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