Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 21, 2002
Uncle Stan, World War II and his birthday
I almost missed my Uncle Stan's 79th birthday. I bought a card early in February and for some reason thought that his birthday was Feb. 23 instead of Feb. 10. I think I know why I remembered it wrong. For one thing, he was born in the year 1923. Also, a few years back, he told me that he left for World War II in February 1943 after he had just turned 20. Whatever the reason, my brain either turned the year 1923 into the date Feb. 23 or it combined the 20 years old and the 1943 into that date.
Stan was not eager to go overseas. He said when he left his home, it was "the most depressing day" of his life. He said he even considered jumping off his troop train in the Sierras when the train was making its way to California. He said he wasn't particularly interested in being a hero; he just wanted to survive the war and go back home. But he went on to serve his country, even though he was scared. Over the years, he has told me about some of his World War II experiences in the South Pacific. He described one incident when he was on Leyte in the Philippines:
"On Dec. 7, 1944, our planes came back from a raid and the Japs had followed them under our radar. The Japs came out of the transports like rice coming out of a sack. It was nerve-wracking for a country coward like me," he said.
"We spent the night in foxholes firing at everything that moved. In the morning, we woke up to a bunch of dead water buffalo on the beach. The Filipinos dragged them off and butchered them. The Filipinos would do anything to help. They did our laundry, cleaned the camp, even scavenged for leftover food. I remember we ate a lot of Spam and slimy potatoes. I remembered it rained constantly. I didn't have dry feet for a month."
Uncle Stan gave me his World War II photo album in 1999 because he and his wife, my Aunt Kay, never had children, and he knew I'd appreciate it and would safeguard it for our family history.
Many of Stan's stories of his younger days are serious, but many more are humorous.
Stan still chuckles when he recalls how he and his brothers - my Dad and my Uncle Bob - liked to tease their Grandfather William Freeland, who lived with the family after his wife died. Stan said one day when he was just a kid, he skipped school and decided to give his grandfather a hard time. It seems his Grandpa, who didn't know Stan had played hooky, left his glasses on the table and then went out to get the mail. Stan hid the glasses and made sure he remained hidden, too. He was greatly amused after his grandpa came back into the house and kept mumbling about where he must have put those confounded glasses.
A few years ago, when Stan and Kay were visiting the museum in Burns - our hometown - Stan listened as people made comments about some of the old photographs. They pointed to certain people in the pictures and said, "so and so is dead now" or "this person is dead now." Stan said before too long, people will point to a photo and say, "That's old Stanley Freeland. He's dead now."
I can't believe that Stan just turned 79 or that Kay will be 80 in May. Kay made it clear to my parents recently that she doesn't want to be reminded of her age when her birthday comes around.
I'm not sure I want to be reminded either.
Uncle Stan, left, and his buddy H. Dunaway
in Townsville, Australia, September 1943.