Two brothers were born in the backwoods of Alabama two years apart, one in 1922, the other in 1924. They were poor as dirt and as dark as that same soil which they farmed with their parents and other siblings out in the blistering sun. It was a happy life, even if it was a hard one, but happy things always seem to not last long enough.
After the explosions from the bombs at Pearl Harbor faded, Uncle Sam came calling, looking for young men to whisk off to war. The older brother was first, just 20 years old, and was drafted to the Army and assigned to Infantry. He was shipped out on Christmas Eve to Germany. The younger brother was able to put off his departure for a little while. He was needed at home on the farm and was let out of his draft summons.
However, a year later, Uncle Sam couldn't wait any longer, and he was drafted into the Marines. He was sent to the South Pacific, even before he completed training. The elder son, having spent a year in service, was now a corporal and hunkered down in a fox hole somewhere in Germany. In the midst of all that mud and bitter cold with death all around him and bullets whizzing overhead, his feet froze and his toes were frostbitten. He was in charge of a squad that fired the heavy field artillery.
One day while he and another soldier were cleaning the guns, the other soldier thought the older brother was done and pulled the pin holding the huge gun open. It slammed on the brother's hand and severed his fingers. The doctors did not want to reattach the fingers thinking it was hopeless, but a nurse on duty thought that the fingers could be saved. She was right, and he got to keep them all.
He soldiered on through the war and survived the Battle of the Bulge and earned a Bronze Star. He remained in Germany until the end of the war in Europe in 1945. Meanwhile, in the South Pacific, the younger brother was still bobbing around in the ocean. Then, the end of the war came, but word did not reach Iwo Jima.
When people think of the Battle of Iwo Jima they think of the brave young men who took the hill and raised a flag, but there were other heroes there that day. The younger brother was one such hero. He risked his life for his fellow soldiers. Unfortunately, he died a few days later of his wounds on May 23, 1945. He earned a Silver Star posthumously for his bravery, which read thusly:
"The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Private First Class Harvis O. McDonald (MCSN: 939468), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as a Rifleman, serving with Company H, Third Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines, FIFTH Marine Division, during action on enemy Japanese-held Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 18 March 1945.
When his squad and group leaders became casualties and his unit was pinned down by intense fire from a blockhouse to the front, Private First Class McDonald assumed command of the squad, made plans for withdrawal from the area and then, braving enemy fire, crawled up to an exposed position from which he threw hand grenades into the fire port of the blockhouse.
He silenced the hostile emplacement while his squad moved to another area and remained in this exposed position until a demolition arrived to dispose of the blockhouse. His courage, inspiring leadership and unwavering devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
The older son did not found out about his brother's death until he arrived home from Germany. As upset as I am sure he was over his brother's death, he knew he had to continue on. He married and had six children, had his own farm, and worked for Kimberly-Clark. He never talked about his time in the war much, but if he did it gave him nightmares.
The older brother, Howard McDonald, was my Grandfather, and the younger one was my Great Uncle Harvis. Both were great, valiant, hardworking men who loved God, their family, and their country. Memorial Day is the time to remember, specifically those who lost their lives in battle, but I also like to remember my grandfather who has passed away.
On this Memorial Day, I salute and thank them and the other men who were willing to fight for their country and hope and pray that the soldiers now serving will soon be able to return home to their families.