Clarence Vernon Hartwell ("Bud")

My father was a man who was hard to love, or even care about. Most of the time, when you thought of him, your primary concern was how to stay out of his way. He didn't drink, smoke, or take any illicit drugs, yet somehow he managed to be as violent and abusive as a mean drunk. It wasn't until two years after he died that I realized there was a reason for his behavior, besides just plain meanness.

You see, my father was a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman from 1940 through 1960. From 1940 through 1945, he was stationed at the U.S. Navy hospital in Manila, the Philippines. He never actually talked about that tour of duty in one sitting. Instead, he'd sometimes come up with a story, like how he and the other sailors would get excited when they found meal worms in their rice, because it meant they were getting some protein, or how he once talked one of the camp guards out of committing seppuku. It never really clicked with me while he was alive, how the time he spent in Manila had changed him. It took the insight of a therapist, when I mentioned how disappointed I was that I had not been able to dance on his grave, to point out that everything my mother, my sisters, and I had experienced while I was growing up had its roots in his time in Manila. The biggest difference was, in our family, he was the camp commander, and we were the prisoners.

One thing I have to admit is that he definitely left his mark on me. Literally. When I was two, he sawed the tip off my left index finger. Luckily, we were living in Portola, California, at the time, so the emergency room staff had a lot of experience in re-attaching severed body parts, what with it being a logging town. That's the first mark he left on me, that I know of. It wasn't the last.

On the other hand, thanks to him, I am must more self-sufficient than I might have been otherwise: much more able to be alone with myself, to spend days, even weeks, without direct contact with any other person. I'm also much more aware of the dangers of letting my temper out on other people. There is no way that I want to emulate, with the people I love, the way he treated his family.

William G. Hartwell


October 23, 2009
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