Monday, December 7, 2015

Remembering My Dad on Pearl Harbor Day

by Patrick J. Walsh

I'm taking  a moment today to remember Pearl Harbor, and all that happened there on December 7, 1941.

The events of that day changed the course of our history as a nation, and the history of the world.

The commemoration of "Pearl Harbor Day" each December 7 is imbued with a solemn dignity in ceremonies throughout the United States, and remembrances of the day often serve as a "teachable moment" that connects new generations of Americans to a particularly crucial turning point in the nation's history.

The day has always held special significance for me, because my Dad, John E. Walsh, was stationed at Pearl Harbor as a member of the U.S. Navy on December 7, 1941.

John E. Walsh and friends at Pearl Harbor, 1941.
Just twenty years old, Dad was enjoying Navy life in Hawaii that Fall — snapshots from the days before December 7 show him and his buddies, many from his hometown area of Peekskill, New York, smiling and obviously happy to be among friends when so far from home.

In those days before everything changed, Dad taught Sunday school to some of the local kids. It was a big deal to have some pineapple for dessert, or a beer with the guys when he wasn't in class, training to be an airplane mechanic.

Then, on a Sunday morning at the end of the first week of December, there was a strange hum in the sky, and within minutes, the air was thick with smoke. Within hours, a heavy smell of death hung in the air, and the harbor was transformed into a graveyard for many U.S. servicemen.

The sights and sounds of those hours stayed with Dad for the rest of his life, but he rarely spoke of them unless asked. Knowing him as well as I did, I suspect that he held those things sacred — as you might honor the final hours of someone close to you — and as a result only felt comfortable discussing them in the reverence of an appropriate time and setting.

In the chaos of that morning, as everyone scrambled to do what they could to get planes in the air and mount some sort of response to what was happening, Dad at one point fell or was knocked to the ground, receiving a cut to his knee. The moment allowed for no attention to anything less than major injury, though, so he simply got up and went on to his next assignment, just as so many others did that day and in the following weeks, despite the shock and confusion of injuries large and small.

The days following December 7 were as grim and serious as the days before had been joyful and carefree. The idylls and innocence of youth were replaced with grave, exhausting attention to detail and a determination to honor those who had been lost.

Dad always felt blessed to have survived December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. He sometimes referred to it as his "second birthday" that year — the start of an entirely new time in his life. He was grateful to have survived that day, and proud to later be part of the support apparatus for the Battle of Midway, which historians point to as the turning point in the war of the Pacific, and the United States' answer to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I feel blessed today to honor my Dad and to remember all those who have served with honor, in pivotal moments like Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and throughout our long history as a people of courage and determination, and joy and innocence, in war and in peace.

© Patrick J. Walsh

Related posts:

Peace: The importance of POW / MIA resolution

A First Anniversary

Monsignor Francis J. Ansbro: a Full Life, and a Full Heart

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Poem Time: The Magic of Words

by Patrick J. Walsh

For those who know me primarily from my books or journalism or videos, it might come as something of a surprise to find out that I'm also an avid poet.

Then again, if you ever heard me lecture about literature or dug around in the archives at my undergrad alma mater, my fascination with poets and poetics will probably make perfect sense.

And for poets, spring is a special time of year -- and not just because of all those blooming flowers and similarly inspiring symbols of the ethereal dimensions of life.

It's also the setting for National Poetry Month, which each April focuses attention on the art of poetry and its significance to our culture and history.

Founded in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, the National Poetry Month event inspires many individual celebrations across the country, and acts as a sort of yearly punctuation mark in the ongoing process of growing as a writer and reader of poetry.

In my particular case, the past two National Poetry Month celebrations have meant participating in the "Poem-A-Day Challenge" led by Robert Lee Brewer at his blog, Poetic Asides.

The challenge format provides poets with a  prompt each day as a starting point for molding a new poem. And while it can be a bit daunting to commit to writing a new poem every day for a month, it's also a great way to quickly generate a sizable lot of new drafts, which can then be hammered into finished work as time and circumstance permit.

Whether you're writing or reading, as part of the national celebration or just for your own pleasure, I hope you'll find a little time to focus on poems and poets. It's a great way to celebrate the remarkable magic of words, and all that they inspire in us each day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


by Patrick J. Walsh

In the light of winter sun
the gray stillness of the empty field
seems bigger
than the memory of days
when the grass grew freely

A wrap of dying leaves
enshrouds the early fall
sealing away
any chance for new growth
as the black winds turn chill

And summer, lusting red with heat
in sodden, sweaty steps
stomps down
the flooded patches
with an angry trail of mud

But spring, its secrets hidden
in the lush fertile soil
deep below
renews the promise of green
and its hope for a better world

© Patrick J. Walsh

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Saturday in March

by Patrick J. Walsh

It is a sunny Saturday afternoon in early March, in the first tentative warmth of one of the first days of less frigid air, near the end of a long and trying winter. There are memories here, as I indulge in the routines that characterized my childhood, now decades past.

There is homemade soup on the stove, its aroma dreamily evocative, transporting me backward to those days of my youth when my Mom spent hours preparing and cooking so we could all share in the hearty warmth of the meal.

And in the memory of the motes that dance in the sunny beams, there are those times in the past when the softness of the winter or the earliness of the spring allowed my Dad and I to begin our work in the yard in the early part of the warmer season.

I remember the keenness of the anticipation we felt, as we looked eagerly forward to the warmer days of greenness and growth that would, later, transform the square patch of land around our home into the idyllic suburban dreamscapes of the summertimes of my youth.

As the light shines and I ponder the outline of all of these things, the TV is lit with the antics of the animated characters of my childhood, who remain as sweet and innocent as they were when I first encountered them, many Saturday mornings ago.

Most definitively present in the cheer of the afternoon beams slanting across the couch and the carpet, there are the moments I shared with my family, particularly those who have since passed out of this life.

Those times when we laughed together, or ate together, or worked on some project — or shared a visit with friends and relatives, or ventured out on some errand — these are all present in the sunlight.

I feel the warmth of the sun today. And I am blessed.

© Patrick J. Walsh
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When Geese Dream
A Walk in the Park: Patience
A First Anniversary

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Goodbye year / Hello year

Happy Bright and Shiny New Year!

I spent a little part of New Year's Eve 2014 at the "New Year's Eve - Bar Napkin Poetry" event. Here are the results:

Goodbye year

every moment of kindness
lingers in the shiny light
in these hours of leaving

while every sad revealing
of base and brutal instinct
evanesces in the darkness

go now, hand us over
to some new collection of days
colored more brightly with hope

-- PJW, 12/31/14

Hello year

well hello to you
you bright new story
your lines all loose
with possibility

let's begin this thing
with a smile outside
and a silent prayer
for peace

now come over here
while I wrap you
in shades of hope
and anticipation

and we'll sleep late
as your hours begin
with the soft light
of morning

-- PJW, 01/01/15

You may also like:

Write two poems and call me…
A Walk in the Park
The Hawk

and other PW poems:
Gathering Days
A Further Adventure of Sir Gawain
Why I'm Staying Home This Halloween