Editor’s note: This is the first essay in a 12-part Father’s Day series entitled, Honoring Fathers Who Serve. In May, we asked readers to submit essays about the fathers in their lives who have served our country.
A face in the kitchen window frightened and then puzzled me. After a few seconds, I recognized whose face it was. It was my father Chief Carpenter (CWO) Charles E Bellais. He was in his naval aviator uniform—green in those days—and his hat with the naval officer emblem gleamed in the evening light. He was home from the war. This was August 22, 1945.
We did not expect he would be home within a week after the war ended but there he was staring through the kitchen window. Running into the living room and shouting, “Daddy’s in the back yard,” everyone thought I was hallucinating. I was so excited I forgot to go to the door and let him in resulting in a strong bang on the back door.
Our dad was home and we anticipated peace.
Four years earlier, on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. There was a somber mood in our Navy Housing area that day. We knew our navy father was going to war. A few months later, my mother would put a blue service star in our front window.
Nearly seventy years later I put a service star banner out in front of my home. The star, for my son as he served in Afghanistan, represented three generations of men (grandfather, father, and son) who have gone off to serve in a foreign war.
In addition, my father served in the World War I era. He joined the Army in 1918 as a medical corpsman when he was 17 years old. The Philippines, instead of France, became his first assignment. Nevertheless, he did not avoid the turmoil of the time. His regiment served at Vladivostok, Russia, to guard the Trans-Siberian Railroad against the Bolshevik’s Red Army and the Japanese who occupied neighboring Manchuria. The brutal conditions of Eastern Siberia convinced him that his soldiering days were over. On his return to the U.S. and after discharge from the Army, he decided he wanted to be a sailor; he joined the Navy.
In 1953, I decided I wanted some adventure after high school and I joined the Marine Corps. I too went to Asia to serve in the Fleet Marine Force. This was the era of the Korean War.
Later I decided to work toward an Army commission while in college and earned my gold bars in 1960. By 1968, I was on my way to Vietnam for my first year there leaving behind my four-month-old son, his six-year-old sister, and their mother. Two years after my return, I repeated the sad good-byes and returned to Vietnam.
My son, LCDR John C. Bellais, USNR, is now the third generation of my family to go off to war in the past ninety years. He served with the Navy in Afghanistan as a Lieutenant in 2010 and 2011.
The star on the flag that flew out in front of my home represented a man who was four months old when I departed or Vietnam in June 1968. Like his father and grandfather, my son left his home to answer the call of country and to fulfill duties as a naval officer, leaving behind an infant son and his mother.
William Bellais served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. He went on to become commissioned in the U.S. Army and serve his country again in Vietnam.